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New creative resource for engaging the public about mental health and immigration detention


An Open University PhD student has developed a resource that utilises illustrated narratives (also referred to as “refugee comics”) to build public awareness about the mental health damage to people detained with no time limit in immigration removal centres in the UK.

Harmful effects of immigration on mental health

Joanne Vincett, a PhD student in the Faculty of Business and Law, has been researching the volunteer work of befrienders to women detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. During her research, she noticed the harmful effects of immigration detention on the mental health of detainees and how numerous women practised origami, the art of paper folding, to cope with indefinite detention.

Practicing origami art to counter damage

Funded by the Research Innovation Fund, Birkbeck, University of London, Joanne worked with Sarah Turnbull, University of Waterloo, to develop the resource, Art as resistance, which is an illustrated story of how detained women practice origami art to counter the mental health damage of living with uncertainty and being separated from their families.

“In addition, Origami art is also a way for the women to produce gifts that they can give to those who visit them, family members or supportive detention staff members”, said Joanne.

Art as resistance, which Joanne presented at the 14th Annual Ethnography Symposium in August 2019 and won a Best Presentation Award, was developed so that educators can use it to produce other relevant learning materials.

Need for more creative ways of sharing data

Joanne added: “Academic outputs produced are usually in a dense text-based format. In the context of immigration detention centres, recording devices are not allowed. Our call is for more creative and visual ways of sharing data, rather than dense text, in academic materials that also have the potential to influence policy.

“We are trying to get the public more aware of the Home Office’s harms in detaining people without a time limit, and the ways in which detainees use art to prevent their mental health from deteriorating.”

Read more about research in the OU’s Business School.

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