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SELF-HARM has become so prevalent at the infamous Yarl’s Wood immigrant removal facility that medics have to be called in at least once a week, the Home Office revealed yesterday.
Newly published figures show that in 2014 there were 61 incidents of self-harm which required medical treatment, while in 2013 there were 74.
However, the figures only cover those incidents in which medical attention was given, leading to concerns that they may only be the tip of the iceberg.
The revelation prompted warnings that immigration detention can cause mental illness and could lead to instances of self-harm among vulnerable inmates, many of whom have suffered torture or rape.
“What you have heard is true,” Ugandan detainee Juliette Akao told the Star by phone from Yarl’s Wood.
“The women here are very depressed and have many problems. Things like this happen every day. There is no proper healthcare or concern about what’s happening. The ladies have to help each other. The situation is very bad.”
Ms Akao, herself a victim of torture, rape and sexual abuse, said that a culture of disbelief that permeates the immigration system was a major problem.
“No-one believes you,” she said. “If you have gone through torture in your own life you think you are coming to a country that respects human rights. But this is an inhuman culture and people need to know what is happening.
“It is very sad that a country like this, which says it respects human rights and criticises others for abusing them, is doing exactly the same thing here.”
The removal centre, near Bedford, is run by profiteer Serco and houses nearly 400 people awaiting deportation, most of whom are women.
In March, Serco suspended two members of staff after a Channel 4 News investigation raised questions about standards of care at the centre, with one officer recorded saying: “Let them slash their wrists” and several others referring to detainees as “animals.”
Medical Justice sends volunteer doctors to see detainees and claims to have seen hundreds of cases of seriously inadequate healthcare.
“In many cases immigration detention exacerbates existing medical conditions and in some cases has been the cause of mental illness,” said co-ordinator Emma Ginn.
“There have been a number of fatalities including self-inflicted deaths and we fear that, with no improvement in conditions, there could be more.”
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that women who had been sexually abused, tortured or were pregnant should not be detained and called for an “urgent review” of Yarl’s Wood.
“The government is overseeing the worst of all worlds in the asylum system — more people detained, and for longer, with fewer deportations,” she said.
“Too many women are left in a hellish limbo in detention centres.”
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