An inspection report has suggested that too many pregnant women were held at a Bedfordshire immigrant removal centre.
Refugee activists today demanded an end to the “dreadful” confinement of pregnant asylum-seekers after Britain’s prison watchdog expressed concern over their treatment at the infamous Yarl’s Wood centre.
There were seven mothers-to-be held at the privately run centre in July when the inspection was carried out. When the inspection was carried out in July, the centre held 229 women and 27 male partners.
Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said there were “too many pregnant women, who should only have been held in special circumstances, were detained in the centre.”
The report stated “We reviewed the UK Border Agency files for five of them. Only one of the monthly review letters mentioned pregnancy and even that one suggested that the pregnancy was disputed, although it had been confirmed for some time
In one case a pregnant women was transferred between four immigration centres, only to collapse and be admitted to hospital.
Hardwick also criticised operator Serco for the low number of female staff at the centre. On some nights male guards were left in lone charge of the women’s units.
Hardwick said that while the inspection had found proof of some noteworthy improvement he remained concerned about whether the needs of vulnerable women were being met.
Bail for Immigration Detainees director Celia Clarke accused the Border Agency of the awful practices that put the health of these women and their unborn babies at serious risk.
She said they regularly worked with pregnant women who were detained by the UK Border Agency for long periods.
Clarke elaborated “They tell us that they have difficulties eating and sleeping in detention, that they are suffering from extreme anxiety and that their physical health is deteriorating.”
Clarke also called for an end to the callous and needless detention of pregnant asylum-seekers.
She maintained that there was negligible risk that women who were pregnant would escape, given their need to access regular medical care.
Refugee Council chief executive Donna Covey agreed that pregnant women should in no circumstances be held in detention centres.
A Border Agency spokesman said: “Pregnant women were only detained in exceptional circumstances. Detainees had access to healthcare facilities and medical advice at all times.”
UK Border Agency representative added pregnant women were held as part of a fast-track process or where removal was imminent.