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Mental Health Foundation addresses mental health challenges faced by asylum seekers and refugees in the UK


Comprehensive report says hostile environment policy has profoundly negative impact on lives of migrants and refugees

Date of Publication:
28 February 2024

A report published last week by the Mental Health Foundation provides a very comprehensive look at the mental health of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.

You can download the 128-page report here.

The Mental Health Foundation is a leading UK charity that works to improve services for anyone affected by mental health problems.

In its new report, the Foundation presents evidence on the economic, social, and cultural circumstances which asylum seekers and refugees who seek sanctuary in the UK can face, and how these experiences can harm their mental health and even lead to suicidal feelings and actions.

The report highlights how asylum seekers and refugees are at particular risk of mental health problems, which may develop as a result of their experiences in their countries of origin, during their journeys, or after they arrive in the UK.

"The complex and unique challenges they have often faced, and continue to face, means that asylum seekers and refugees are more likely to experience poor mental health than the general population. This includes higher rates of PTSD, depression, and anxiety disorders," the report explains.

Research for the report is informed by engagement with people with direct experience of the UK asylum system, as well as evidence from the Mental Health Foundation's work with asylum seekers and refugees, engagement with other organisations in the third sector, and wider research literature.

Separate sections of the report set out some of the reasons why asylum seekers and refugees are at particular risk, namely:

  • An asylum system that reinforces trauma
  • Financial and housing difficulties
  • Barriers to employment
  • Difficulties engaging with and accessing public services
  • Language proficiency
  • Experiencing hostility, discrimination and maltreatment

As the report notes, the mental health challenges faced by asylum seekers and refugees have been compounded by the Government's hostile environment policy towards irregular migrants.

The Mental Health Foundation stated:

"Hostile/compliant environment policies have had a profoundly negative impact on the lives of people who have a right to live in the UK. Policies created during the 'hostile environment' period have led to people being discriminated against and wrongly deported or detained. They have also created difficulties for migrants in accessing public services, which have contributed to asylum seekers and refugees experiencing destitution and ill-health.

"The most recent UK government immigration legislation has reinforced a complex and hostile immigration system. Under the Illegal Migration Act 2023 anyone who arrives in the UK in what the government regards as an 'unofficial way' will be either returned to their country of origin, or a third country such as Rwanda. At the time of writing this report (January 2024), the UK government is trying to push through its plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. Current immigration policies which reinforce a complex and hostile immigration system can contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness among asylum seekers and refugees. In research by the Refugee Council, frontline workers reported that fears of being sent to Rwanda are taking a severe toll on the mental health of asylum seekers, with suicidal thoughts being reported."

One asylum seeker is quoted as saying: "Everything is stressful. You can't sleep at nighttime, always thinking about the Home Office, maybe they want to send you back home, today or tomorrow, you never know."

The report says people facing persecution will continue to seek sanctuary in the UK and political debate will continue about how best to manage this migration. "We hope that this is conducted in a less harmful, and more compassionate way than has been the case in recent years," the Foundation adds.

Numerous recommendations are set out throughout the report that the Mental Health Foundation believes offers a blueprint for a better, more compassionate and caring way of treating refugees and asylum seekers arriving in the UK. Policymakers are urged to adopt them.