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The experiences of pregnant migrant women in detention: A qualitative study

02 September 2018
Volume 26 · Issue 9



Pregnant migrant women held in detention centres in the UK can be particularly vulnerable. They may have poor physical and mental health, which is exacerbated by their incarceration, and are at a disproportionally increased risk of maternal and perinatal mortality. Unpublished studies have found that pregnant migrant women have poor experiences in detention.


To explore pregnant migrant women's experiences of living in detention.


Four migrant women who had been held in detention while pregnant and two volunteer health professionals were interviewed.


Results suggest that migrant women have very poor experiences in detention. Four key themes emerged: ‘challenges to accessing UK healthcare’, ‘exacerbation of mental health conditions, ‘feeling hungry’ and ‘lack of privacy’.


These findings could be used to review maternity care in detention and ensure that detention staff understand the experiences of detained pregnant women so that the needs of this vulnerable group can be met.

Pregnant migrant women can be held in detention in the UK for a number of reasons. These include on arrival, while awaiting a decision on their right to entry; if they have been refused permission to stay and are awaiting removal; or if they are considered not to have the right of residency, having an expired or no visa or having been refused asylum. Pregnant migrant women are a vulnerable group, who may have fled their home for fear of persecution, having witnessed violence and/or lost family members. They may have been the victims of rape, torture, trafficking, forced marriage and sex working (Tsangarides and Grant, 2013; Public Health England, 2017).

Before 2016, around 100 migrant pregnant women were held each year in detention, often for prolonged periods (Tsangarides and Grant, 2013). Since then, following a Home Office review, women can now only be detained when necessary, for up to 72 hours (or up to a week in exceptional circumstances) (Home Office et al, 2016). However, it is argued that women are still being detained unnecessarily (International Detention Coalition, 2016) and that detention is harmful to their health (Tsangarides and Grant, 2013). Less than 20% of pregnant women who are detained are subsequently deported, a statistic that questions the value of detention in controlling immigration (Shaw, 2016)

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