Working Group on the Health of Refugees and Asylum Seekers

The working group was set up in 2012 as a network of psychiatrists who were interested in and/or working with forced migrants, people seeking asylum and refugees.

Many of the people these psychiatrists work with are detained in Immigration Removal Centres. The group shares examples of best practice, engages in academic research and engages with members of the RCPsych and other institutions to influence policy on related issues.


Professor Cornelius Katona MD FRCPsych


Cornelius Katona is Medical Director of the Helen Bamber Foundation, a human rights charity working with asylum seekers and refugees. He is the RCPsych lead on refugee and asylum mental health. 


Dr Susannah Fairweather

Dr Susannah Fairweather is a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist working at The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. She works in the Child and Family Refugee Team and is the manager and Clinical Lead for the Returning Families Unit, a national specialist unit for British national families returning from the Syrian and Iraq conflict. She regularly acts as an Expert Witness for the Asylum and Immigration Tribunals and since 2015 has been particularly involved in Family Reunification cases of minors across Europe under Dublin III Regulation.

Dr Hugh Grant Peterkin

Hugh Grant Peterkin is a Consultant Psychiatrist currently working in Older Adult Liaison Psychiatry in East London. He is currently a trustee of Medical Justice and previously a trustee of Medact. He has been a member of the RCPsych working group since its inception and in this capacity has co-authored articles, positions statements and responses to the government requests for information.

Dr Rukyya Hassan

Rukyya is a Consultant Psychiatrist and currently works in Rehabilitation Psychiatry in the North West. She has an interest in the mental health of minority and marginalised groups, including asylum seekers and refugees. She also works as a volunteer medico-legal report writer for Freedom From Torture.

Dr EJ Mounty FRCPsych

Jane Mounty is a Consultant Psychiatrist specialising in Rehabilitation and Systemic Therapy. She has worked with Medical Justice and the Helen Bamber Foundation preparing medico-legal reports since 2011. She has been a member of the RCPsych working group since 2013. She is also conference organiser for the volunteering and international psychiatry special interest group (VIPSIG). She has interests in anthropology, group therapy and the therapeutic effects of storytelling and the recording of oral histories.

Dr Piyush Pushkar


Twitter: @DrPiyushPushkar

Piyush Pushkar is a psychiatry core trainee and co-chair of Medact Manchester. He is currently undertaking PhD research on NHS activism at the University of Manchester, Dept of Social Anthropology. He joined the RCPsych working group in 2018 and is currently acting as its secretary.

Dr Piyal Sen

Piyal Sen is a Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist and a Clinical Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College, London. He co-facilitates an on-line clinical network on behalf of the RCPsych for psychiatrists interested in the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers. He has a special clinical and research interest in immigration detention.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the working group, please contact Piyush Pushkar. Members can choose to make their details public – as above – but there is no compulsion to do so.

The working group meets approximately quarterly at the Helen Bamber Foundation in London. Several members live and work outside London and dial in to the meeting from their own workplaces.

At the meetings, we discuss any ongoing work and plans for future work. The meetings are succinct, chaired by Professor Katona and minuted by Dr Pushkar.

Usually, the work that is planned is then carried out by individuals and small groups between meetings. The individuals and small groups report back at the next meeting, allowing further actions to be planned.  

The working group wrote the position statement for the RCPsych on the detention of people with a mental disorder in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). A position statement concisely states what the policy of the RCPsych is.

Read the position statement. The working group is currently working on revising the statement.

The working group regularly contributes to other policy documents and responses to government policy. For example, the working group made a submission to the Shaw Review on the welfare of vulnerable persons in detention.

The working group also made a submission to the recent Independent Mental Health Act Review commissioned by the government.

Members of the working group regularly contribute to academic, educational and professional conferences and meetings, helping to disseminate and improve knowledge, skills and attitudes regarding the assessment and management of people seeking asylum and refugees. For example, apart from symposia and master-classes organised by the Royal College, members have contributed to meetings of the BMA and Amnesty International.

The next educational meeting that members will be contributing to will be the RCPsych Study Day on 29.11.19.


One of the main focuses of the efforts of members of the working group – individually and collaboratively – has been in leading world-class research on the mental healthcare of forced migrants. Here is a selection of some of the working group’s publications:

Arnold F, Katona C, Cohen J, Jones L, McCoy D (2015) Responding to the needs of refugees.

BMJ. Dec 16;351:h6731. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h6731.

Ellis J, Fairweather S, Scott M, Griffiths L (2017) Re-uniting families in the chaos of the refugee crisis: medico-legal assessment of unaccompanied refugee minors in the Calais Jungle (mental health and legal perspectives). International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, 10(3):187-194

Grant-Peterkin H, Pickles H, Katona C (2016) Mental capacity of those in immigration detention in the UK. Med Sci Law. Jul 14. pii: 0025802416657263

Katona C (2016) Non-affective psychosis in refugees. BMJ. Mar 15;352:i1279. doi: 10.1136/bmj.i1279

Katona C and Robjant R (2017). Research Topic: Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the context of human rights abuse. Frontiers in Psychiatry

Kissane M, Szymanski L, Upthegrove R, Katona C (2014). Complex posttraumatic stress disorder in traumatised asylum seekers: a pilot study. The European Journal of Psychiatry, 28(3): 137-144

McDonnell M, Robjant K, Katona C (2013) Complex posttraumatic stress disorder and survivors of human rights violations. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 26(1), 1-6.

Robjant K, Hassan R, Katona C (2009) Mental health implications of detaining asylum seekers: systematic review. Br J Psychiatry 194(4): 306-312.

Robjant K, Roberts J and Katona C (2017) Treating PTSD in female victims of trafficking using Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET): A case series. In: Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the context of human rights abuse (Katona C and Robjant K, eds) Frontiers in Psychiatry

Sen P et al (2014) Mental health care for foreign national prisoners in England and Wales, Journal of Mental Health, 23(6):333

Sen P et al (2017) Mental health morbidity among people subject to immigration detention in the UK: a feasibility study. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 27(6): 1-10.

Sen P (2016) The mental health needs of asylum-seekers and refugees-challenges and solutions. BJPsych International. 13(2):29-31.

Sen P, Anton J, Connell E, Forrester A, Katona C, Khan A, Moran P, Robjant K, Slade K, Tan J, Widyeratna K, Youd J. Mental health morbidity amongst people subject to immigration detention in the UK. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, in press

Useful documents

  • The Shaw Review on the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons
  • The position statement of the Royal College of Psychiatrists on the detention of people with a mental disorder in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs)

Organisations that provide medical or medico-legal assistance for forced migrants, people detained in IRCs and victims of torture

Organisations that campaign for the health rights of forced migrants

If you would like to join the working group then please email Lucia Chaplin ( and Lauren Ng (

All doctors, medical students and professionals working with forced migrants are very welcome.  Should you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact Lauren and Lucia.

Read more to receive further information regarding a career in psychiatry