Detained: Women asylum seekers locked up in the UK

Mental Health Migration

In 2012, 6,071 women came to the UK seeking  asylum in their own right and 1,902 women who had sought asylum were detained.

For this report, Women for Refugee Women talked to 46 women who had sought asylum and had been detained, mainly in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, about their experiences.  This report also includes new official statistics  on women who have sought asylum and been detained, supplied by the Home Office to Women for Refugee Women.


We found that 33 women, or 72%, said that they had been raped, 19 women, or 41%, said that they had been tortured. 40 women, over 85%, had been either raped or tortured. More than half of the women we spoke to said that they had been persecuted, ‘Because I am a woman.’ Eight women, or 18%, were persecuted because they are lesbians.

‘When the big door closed it brought back everything that had happened to me back home when I was in prison. I thought that I was going to be raped. The fear overtook me. I felt that I was not strong enough to go through anything like that again.’


All of the women in our sample told us that detention made them unhappy, 93% felt depressed, 85% felt scared, and more than half thought about killing themselves. Ten women, more than one in five, had tried to kill themselves. One third had been on suicide
watch in detention.

‘Living is not worthwhile anymore. Being dead would be much better.’


Within our sample, the shortest stay in detention was three days, the longest stay was 11 months and the average was nearly three months. Home Office statistics show that of the 1,867 women who had sought asylum and left detention in 2012, 735, or 40%,
had been detained for more than a month.

‘The most depressing thing is that you don’t know how long you’re going to be here or if you’ll still be here tomorrow.’


40 women said they had been guarded by male staff and 70% of these said this made them uncomfortable. 50% said a member of staff had verbally abused them. Three women said they had been physically assaulted and one said she was sexually assaulted.

‘They are verbally abusive in here…They just see you like animals.’

‘The way they treat you. They want to get rid of you. You feel neglected and unwanted.’

Detained Fast Track

12 women in our sample were held in the Detained Fast Track, in which the whole asylum case is heard in detention at accelerated speed. All but one said they were victims of rape or torture. In 2012, 429 women who had sought asylum were taken into the Detained Fast Track, of whom 20, or fewer than 5%, were granted leave to remain at the initial decision.

Fast track makes you feel nervous and unsafe. Constant worrying and heartache.


Home Office statistics released for this report show that of the 1,867 women who had sought asylum and who left detention in 2012, only 674, or 36%, were removed from the UK. The others were released into the UK. Our research suggests that this unnecessary
detention has an ongoing impact on the mental health of vulnerable women.

‘When I left detention, Yarl’s Wood followed me to Manchester. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a trance, I feel I hear the footsteps of the officers, I hear the banging of the doors and the sound of their keys. Even though I’m out of detention, I’m not really out – I still have those dreams.’


We believe that detention has no place in the asylum process and that women who seek sanctuary in the UK should not be detained while their cases are being considered. Their cases can be heard while they are living in the community at much less cost and with
less trauma to the asylum seekers themselves.

This is the Executive  summary of Detained:Women asylum seekers locked up in the UK