Healthcare provision inside immigration removal centres: A social identity analysis of trust, legitimacy and disengagement

Blerina Këllezi*, Juliet Wakefield, Mhairi Bowe, Clifford Stevenson, Niamh McNamara

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


The stressors of immigration detention and negative host country experiences make effective access to health care vital for migrant detainees, but little is known regarding the health experiences of this populations and the barriers to healthcare access. The present research investigates immigration detainees’ experiences of health-related help-seeking in the distressing and stigmatised environment of UK immigration removal centres (IRCs), as well as staff members’ experiences of providing help. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 40 detainees and 21 staff and analysed using theoretical thematic analysis guided by the social identity approach. The findings indicate that the practical constraints on help provision (e.g. lack of time and resources, the unpredictable nature of detention) are exacerbated by the complex and conflictual intergroup relationships within which these helping transactions occur. These transactions are negatively affected by stigma, mutual distrust and reputation management concerns, as well as detainees’ feelings of powerlessness and confusion around eligibility to receive health care. Some detainees argued that the help ignores the systematic inequalities associated with their detainee status, thereby making it fundamentally inappropriate and ineffective. The intergroup context (of inequality and illegitimacy) shapes the quality of helping transactions, care experiences and health service engagement in groups experiencing chronic low status, distress and uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)578-601
Number of pages24
JournalApplied Psychology: Health and Well-Being
Issue number3
Early online date23 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • health
  • help-seeking
  • legitimacy
  • social identities
  • stigmatisation
  • undocumented migrants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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