The immigration detention estate is not an appropriate place to house people with serious mental health challenges


Men with severe mental health illnesses continued to arrive at Heathrow IRC throughout 2020. The impact of a custodial environment only exacerbates their already difficult situation and has a knock-on effect on other detainees and staff alike.

In its 2020 annual report, the Heathrow IRC IMB welcomes:

  • The positive impact on the wellbeing of detainees that maintaining pre-pandemic staffing levels had. While detainee numbers were significantly lower during 2020, maintenance of pre-Covid staff numbers meant a greatly enhanced staff:detainee ratio. However, despite the positives we observed during a very challenging year, we remain extremely concerned by the impact that a secure custodial environment has on people with severe mental health issues.
  • The concerted efforts of the contractor, the Home Office and the NHS that helped to minimise the spread of Covid amongst detainees during such a difficult year.
  • The breadth of services on offer at the centre for detainees throughout the 2020 lockdowns, including access to learning, healthcare, training, fitness and recreational opportunities that were missing in the general community.

IMB Heathrow IRC Chair, Karina Kielbinska, said:

“…We observe that being kept in a custodial environment can often act as a trigger for self-harm in people with mental health challenges. Whilst the provision of mental health services at the centre is good, removal from familiar environments and loved ones can’t and doesn’t help. Centre staff are not necessarily trained to look after people with serious mental health illnesses – it’s a bad situation for everyone. More needs to be done to stop people with severe mental health problems entering the detention estate in the first place.…”.