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3 July 2015, 09:37
Immigration detainees at the controversial Yarl's Wood centre have needed medical treatment after self-harming on average more than once a week in the last two years, official figures show.
The Home Office revealed that in 2014 there were 61 incidents of self-harm which required medical treatment, while in 2013 there were 74.
The revelation prompted warnings that immigration detention can cause mental illness and could lead to instances of self-harm among vulnerable inmates like survivors of torture or rape.
Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre near Bedford is run by Serco and houses nearly 400 detainees who are 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''.
The charity Medical Justice, which sends volunteer doctors to see immigration detainees and campaigns for the release of vulnerable people from detention, described the figures as "worrying''.
Emma Ginn, co-ordinator at Medical Justice, said: "These worrying statistics give an indication of how harmful indefinite immigration detention can be.
"Our volunteer doctors visit immigration detainees and 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.
"There have been a number of fatalities including self-inflicted deaths and we fear that with no improvement in conditions there could be more.''
Tory MP for Bedford Richard Fuller said he wanted the Home Office to look at whether vulnerable asylum seekers who claim to have been tortured or abused should be housed in detention centres, even if they cannot prove their allegations.
He said: "It is fundamentally about whether places of detention are resulting in more instances of self-harm and whether there are alternatives that could be just as effective for removals but lead to less self-harm instances.
"Just because you cannot prove that you were a victim of torture or rape doesn't mean it did not happen.
"This is an issue I would strongly urge the Home Office to look at.''
The figures were revealed by Home Office Minister Lord Bates in response to a written parliamentary question from crossbench peer Lord Hylton.
Lord Bates said: "Information is collated on the number of incidents of self-harm requiring medical treatment at Yarl's Wood IRC. In 2013 there were 74 incidents and in 2014 there were 61.
"These are the number of incidents of self-harm requiring medical attention; they do not necessarily equate to the number of detainees requiring medical attention as one individual may have received medical attention on more than one occasion.''
Home Secretary Theresa May has ordered a review of detainees' welfare, which is currently being conducted by the former prisons ombudsman Stephen Shaw and is due to report back in August.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said women who have been sexually abused, tortured or are pregnant should not be detained and called for an "urgent review'' of Yarl's Wood.
The Labour leadership contender said: "These figures are very disturbing and raise more serious concerns about the way Yarl's Wood is being run. This follows allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, which have still not been investigated. The Government is overseeing the worst of all worlds in the asylum system - more people detained, and for longer, with fewer deportations. Too many women are left in a hellish limbo in detention centres.''