Protecting human rights in childbirth

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End the immigration detention of pregnant women

Stillbirth, miscarriage and acute psychosis are amongst the problems experienced by pregnant women held in immigration removal centres, according to a disturbing new report from Medical Justice.

The report exposes the injustice and ineffectiveness of detaining pregnant women for immigration purposes. These women have not committed any crime. They have come to the UK seeking refuge from oppression in their home countries. Many of them are victims of torture, rape and domestic violence.

Yarls-Wood-00193 pregnant women were held in the main immigration detention facility for women, Yarl’s Wood in 2011. The primary purpose of detention is removal, yet this new research and a previous Medical Justice audit show that only around 5% of pregnant women were successfully removed. Removal of pregnant women is difficult because the Home Office is no longer permitted to use force on them, after a court case earlier this year, reported by Birthrights here.

Asylum seeking women have poorer health outcomes during and after childbirth than others. Many women in the report were victims of rape, torture and trafficking. The healthcare they received was inadequate and fell short of the NHS care for women in the community and healthcare staff failed to identify and manage some of the complex cases.

Louise Silverton, Director for Midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives said: “The detention of pregnant asylum seekers increases the likelihood of stress, which can risk the health of the unborn baby. Midwives can only work in the context of what they are allowed to do by their managers. The very process of being detained interrupts a woman’s fundamental human right to access maternity care. The detention system makes it very difficult for midwives to put women at the centre of their care. We have concerns that the system in place actively inhibits the provision of good care. This is an untenable situation for midwives.”

Dr Tony Falconer: President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) said: “Pregnant asylum seekers and refugees are often very vulnerable and any form of detention puts them and their babies at greater risk. We must ensure that these pregnant women receive high quality NHS maternity care. This includes antenatal support and access to purpose-built medical facilities away from detention centres.”

Birthrights supports the call for an end to the immigration detention of pregnant women. It’s ineffective, costly and it poses a serious risk to the health of mothers and babies.