This report presents an analysis of the immigration detention of pregnant women. The results show that the current policy of detaining pregnant women is ineffective, unworkable and damaging.
Case examples showing some of the adverse outcomes suffered by the women in the sample ;
* Maria was restrained and forcibly removed to her home country by four escorts. A few months after her return, she suffered a stillbirth.
* Aliya developed acute psychosis after she was prescribed anti-malarial medication in anticipation of her forced removal.
* Anna who had complained for three weeks about abdominal pains was sent to A & E where she miscarried where she miscarried with two guards in attendance. She subsequently attempted suicide and was admitted into a psychiatric ward.
The Home Office does not know how many pregnant women are detained. Without knowing or recording how many are detained, it is difficult to see how the Home Office is able to implement its own policy of detaining pregnant women in only very exceptional circumstances.
The primary purpose of detention is removal, yet this research and a previous Medical Justice audit show that only around 5% of pregnant women were successfully removed. This is because in the majority of cases, there is no medically safe way to return them.
Following the case of Chen, the Home Office is now unable to use force on pregnant women, save to prevent harm to the woman herself. Given that the use of force, which the Home Office had deemed essential, is now unlawful, pregnant women should no longer be detained as there is now an even smaller prospect of removal.
Experts agree that travel to malarious areas should be avoided because pregnant women have an increased risk of developing severe malaria and a higher risk of fatality compared to non-pregnant women. Home Office policy outlines that women should be offered malaria prophylaxis prior to their removal. In all the cases where anti-malarials were offered, Yarl’s Wood healthcare team failed to follow the relevant medical guidance.
Asylum seeking women have poorer maternity outcomes than the general population. Many women in the sample were victims of rape, torture and trafficking. However, there appeared to be no appreciation by Yarl’s Wood healthcare staff that even without complications, this is a group of vulnerable women who need to be managed as complex cases.
With limited prospects of removal, it is our recommendation that the government should stop detaining them. Detention is not serving any purpose: the costs are great and the damage to women’s health can be dramatic. This recommendation is in line with Asylum Aid’s Charter of Rights of Women Seeking Asylum that is supported by 337 organisations, including the Royal College of Midwives.