Mental health crisis unfolds at mass containment site for migrants in the UK

MSF and international rights organization Doctors of the World call for urgent site closure.

A border wall between the United Kingdom and France.

A wall near Calais, France, where many people on the move wait before migrating to the United Kingdom. | France 2023 © Mohammad Ghannam

Doctors of the World (DOTW) and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (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 MSF 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

The report, based on medical data and observations, highlights the profound impact of the UK government’s mass containment site policy on the health, well-being, and dignity of people 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:


of men accessing our services reported experiencing abuse by traffickers or smugglers


of our patients recorded presented with suicidal ideation or planning


of patients reported experiencing violence or abuse in their lifetime

Men are experiencing mental health crises  

Over 74 percent of people 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. 

Protection failures

Recognizing sites like Wethersfield are not suitable for those with “the most serious physical and mental health needs,” the UK 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 health care 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 high level of people with severe mental health needs such as PTSD. 

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

Dr. Kate Morgan, a 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." 

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

Dr. Kate Morgan, clinician

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

Anna Miller, head of advocacy and policy at Doctors of the World, stated, "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."

What MSF is calling for

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 favor of community-based solutions. 
  • Ensure access to care: People seeking asylum should have access to protection and necessary and appropriate physical and psychological health care. 

Read more at MSF UK >