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Monday, 8 November 2010

The UK's continued shameful neglect of migrants' health

The yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti, takin...Image via Wikipedia
Source: The Lancet
While all eyes are on the death of Jimmy Mubenga at the hands of a private firm contracted by the Home Office, another practice with potential fatal outcome by the UK Borders Agency continues quietly and unnoticed. In the context of a recent court case, it has come to light that people removed to countries where yellow fever vaccination is mandatory for entry are not given the vaccine. How does the Home Office get round this requirement?

A woman and her child who was born in the UK were removed to Cameroon last May without the child being vaccinated. Their appeal was rejected based on a letter from the Border Agency that states that there is no facility or obligation at the Yarl's Wood detention centre to provide yellow fever vaccine, and that “the Healthcare Manager at Yarl's Wood has confirmed that the vaccine can be given on arrival in the Cameroon and would be effective straightaway”. This statement reveals either an astonishing level of incompetence or blatant dishonesty. All travellers are clearly advised to obtain yellow fever vaccination 10 days before travel to achieve adequate levels of immunity. In fact, vaccination certificates will only become valid 10 days after immunisation. So, when this woman and her child were entering Cameroon, were there special arrangements locally or between governments? One can only speculate.

Clearly, this is a further example of shocking indifference and double standards in providing preventive or medical care to those in immigration detention or without a valid UK visa. 2 years ago, we described the case of a woman on dialysis sent back to Ghana as atrocious barbarism. Last month, the charity Medical Justice summarised its findings on mistreatment of children in detention centres in its report ‘State Sponsored Cruelty’: Children in immigration detention [PDF]. Among 50 children facing removal, there was inadequate immunisation or administration of incorrect prophylactic drugs.

Any country that purports to uphold human rights and look after its vulnerable people has a duty to ensure that required prevention and treatment is given to all. Cutting corners in the treatment of asylum seekers and their children is simply disgraceful. 
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