Mental health crisis unfolds at RAF Wethersfield Mass Containment Site in the United Kingdom: Doctors of the World and MSF call for urgent site closure

Doctors of the World (DOTW) and Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are issuing an urgent call to the UK Government to close RAF Wethersfield, a former RAF barracks turned mass asylum containment site, due to severe mental health crises among people accommodated at the site.

Since November 2023, Doctors of the World, in partnership with Médecins Sans Frontières UK, has been providing medical services to people held at Wethersfield through a mobile clinic stationed outside the site.

The men held at Wethersfield are 18 to 65 years old, and often Afghan, Iranian, Syrian, Eritrean, Iraqi, or Sudanese.

MSF’s report, based on medical data and observations, highlights the profound impact of the UK government’s mass containment site policy on the health, wellbeing, and dignity of individuals seeking safety, and documents the government’s failure to apply its own policy to protect people with serious physical and mental health needs.

Key revelations from the briefing include:

Men are experiencing mental health crises 

Over 74 percent of individuals accessing medical services at Wethersfield presented with severe psychological distress, with a staggering 41 percent experiencing suicidal ideation, as well as deliberate self-harm and suicide attempts.

The prevalent diagnoses include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depressive symptoms. Sixty-eight percent of people accessing the DOTW-MSF medical service had previous experience of violence or abuse.

Prison-like conditions exacerbate mental health issues

People describe the site as reminiscent of a prison, with limited control over their environment and constant feelings of insecurity.

Overcrowding, lack of privacy, and absence of agency contribute to a sense of hopelessness and despair among people, many of whom have endured trauma and violence in their countries of origin and during their migration journeys.

Many men tell us that our mobile clinic is the only place they feel safe and heard. It is the only space they have to cry.
Dr Emma Withycombe
Medical Activity Manager
Protection failures

Recognising sites like Wethersfield are not suitable for those with “the most serious physical and mental health needs,” the Home Office has a policy to screen people before placing them in containment sites.

The report reveals that 75 percent of people accessing the DOTW-MSF medical services were not suitable, under the policy, to be placed at Wethersfield.

A health service has been commissioned to provide assessments and primary healthcare appointments on weekdays, however, there are not sufficient or appropriate services onsite to meet the complex health needs of people at Wethersfield, including a lack of easily accessible therapeutic services for the high-level of people with severe mental health needs such as PTSD.

This means emergency and ambulance service are called regularly and people come to the DOTW-MSF service seeking further help.

Dr Kate Morgan, clinician, expressed grave concern over the situation, stating, “The men express a constant desire for community, but the nature and design of this site prohibit this possibility.

“Our patients come to us seeking help and support because this place is unsuitable for healing and good mental health.”

The report underscores the urgent need for a paradigm shift in asylum policy, on medical grounds, emphasising the importance of dignified, community-based accommodation and comprehensive healthcare services.

RAF Wethersfield, like all mass containment sites, is not a place of safety or recovery. It perpetuates harm and trauma, exacerbating people’s mental health conditions. It is imperative that the UK government closes RAF Wethersfield and ends the policy of using mass containment sites.
Anna Miller
Head of Advocacy and Policy at Doctors of the World
Calls to the UK Government

In response to these alarming findings, DOTW UK and MSF call upon the UK Government to take immediate action:

  • Close RAF Wethersfield: The site must be shut down without delay to prevent further harm to people and uphold their basic human rights.
  • End Mass Containment: The policy of using mass containment sites to accommodate people seeking asylum is fundamentally flawed and must be abandoned in favour of community-based solutions.
  • Ensure Access to Care: People seeking asylum should have access to protection and necessary and appropriate physical and psychological healthcare.
  • Abandon the Illegal Migration Act and Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act and allow people arriving in the UK to access the asylum system.

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