UK border officials have been attacked in a damning report for endangering the health of hundreds of pregnant women and their babies.
Asylum-seeking women in Britain have high-risk pregnancies due to serious health problems, having fled torture, sexual violence or female genital mutilation in their own countries, a report from Maternity Action and the Refugee Council said.
The study found pregnant women are being moved by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to new accommodation multiple times, while others are being moved against medical advice and some are giving birth alone.
Royal College of Midwives general secretary Cathy Warwick said: “Our society is failing these women and their babies.”
The UKBA provides accommodation to asylum-seekers on a ‘no-choice basis’ in a process known as dispersal, the report said, with applicants provided with transport to their new accommodation by housing providers.
Interviews with 20 women and 17 midwives involved in their care found that their health was being put at risk as they are moved to accommodation around the country, removing them from essential healthcare and “leading to isolation”.
The report found that many asylum-seeking women are suffering from serious mental health conditions, including severe depression, flashbacks and suicidal thoughts.
A Zimbabwean asylum-seeker living in Leeds, known only as Frieda, became pregnant and was given access to specialist antenatal care at her GP’s surgery.
She applied for housing and support from UKBA and was dispersed alone to a town 50 miles away but had to travel back to Leeds for her specialist treatment.
When she went into labour, she took a train to Leeds on her own. During the birth she experienced complications and had to stay in hospital for a week.
After returning home, she was rushed into her local hospital with an infection, where she stayed for a further ten days but as it was a different hospital to the one she gave birth in, they could not provide a bed for her new baby.
She has since been given permission to remain in the UK.
Refugee Council interim chief executive Shan Nicholas said: “The UKBA must stop sending pregnant women to live in new cities unless all risks have been considered and adequate healthcare arrangements made.”
Maternity Action and the Refugee Council urged ministers to review policies to ensure pregnant women in the asylum system, and their babies, are no longer at risk.
But a UKBA spokesman said: “This report draws conclusions from a small sample of cases and doesn’t take into account recent changes we have made.
“We consider every case individually and, wherever possible, women in the latter stages of pregnancy will not be moved to a different area. ”