Ambulance called to Essex asylum site 38 times this year as charities warn of increased suicide attempts

Ambulance called to Essex asylum site 38 times this year as charities warn of increased suicide attempts

Ambulances were called out to attend incidents at Wethersfield asylum site in Essex 38 times in the first five months of this year, The Independent can reveal, after a scathing report found increasing numbers of men attempting suicide at the “prison-like” former RAF base.

Charities working with asylum seekers at the site have been issuing urgent warnings about the conditions inside in recent months. Migrants living there have told The Independent that they have witnessed extreme acts of self-harm and frequent suicide attempts.

One refugee from Iraq estimated he had seen 10 people try to take their own lives in the past four months and said people were “going crazy” at the remote site. Around 580 migrants are housed at the former RAF base in Essex, where asylum seekers can be held for six to nine months. It opened last year.

Failures in vetting have seen vulnerable people sent to the site, with hundreds getting transferred out after the Home Office admitted the conditions were unsuitable.

Now new freedom of information data obtained by The Independent shows that an ambulance was called out to the base 38 times in the months of January to May this year. The highest number of callouts was 16 in January, followed by 11 in February, data from the East of England Ambulance Service showed.

Former RAF base Wethersfield in Essex has been criticised for being remote, with few ways to travel into nearby towns (PA)
Former RAF base Wethersfield in Essex has been criticised for being remote, with few ways to travel into nearby towns (PA)

The Home Office expects to spend £338.7 million on the Wethersfield site in the next three years, despite the base being the subject of a legal action that is due to be heard at the High Court this month.

Senior Tories Priti Patel and James Cleverly have previously said that they want to close the site down because it is not appropriate for asylum accommodation due to its remoteness.

Sir Keir Starmer has said that Labour would shut down Wethersfield if they are elected on Thursday, but admitted this would “take time”.

It comes after a new report from the charities Humans for Rights Network and the Helen Bamber Foundation revealed that there were 30 recorded incidents of men self-harming, attempting suicide, or being at serious risk of doing so in the first three months of 2024.

There were 91 incidents of men expressing that they were considering suicide or self-harm, and over 160 safeguarding referrals were made regarding suicide and self-harm, the report found.

In February, 12 referrals were made to the Home Office over people who were not eating. Maddie Harris, director of Humans for Rights Network, said that data showing 38 ambulance callouts to Wethersfield this year was lower than expected given the level of distress at the site.

She told The Independent: “Are ambulances being called in each and every situation when they should be? The numbers suggest not. Over the past 10 days, we’ve been made aware of a further three occasions of men attempting to take their own lives, so it is incredibly frequent.

“That data suggests to me that they are not taking these suicide attempts, or urgent medical care incidents, seriously enough.”

One Libyan asylum seeker who had been at the site for four months said: “In Libya I faced a lot of struggles. I was in prison, they tortured me, they beat me every night and day. Now I’m also a TB patient. I can’t sleep well. I sleep one hour a day because of this stress.”

Another man who had been in Wethersfield for six months said: “I have not committed a crime but I’m in this prison. My mental health is getting worse and I have self-harm thoughts. I can’t sleep. I stay awake all night. I have nightmares about ending my life.

“I lost weight and my body is getting weaker every day. I don’t have any appetite.”

Kamena Dorling, director of policy at the Helen Bamber Foundation, said of the ambulance data: “The increase in the number of men self-harming and attempting suicide in RAF Wethersfield is extremely concerning. The men in Wethersfield feel increasingly desperate the longer they are forced to live there with no sense of when they will be moved, or what is happening with their asylum claims. The site should be closed immediately.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The safety and security of those accommodated on sites, staff and local communities are of the utmost importance. Welfare officers are on site round the clock and all residents have access to an on-site GP service delivered by a local healthcare provider, including mental health support, and a specialist and experienced security provider is working on site 24/7.”

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call or text 988, or visit to access online chat from the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are in another country, you can go to to find a helpline near you.