Dungavel detention centre closure: Campaigners welcome end of immigration removal facility in Strathaven

Treatment at centre described as tantamount to 'psychological torture'

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The Independent Online

Campaigners have welcomed the closure of the controversial Dungavel detention centre but worries have already been raised about its planned replacement.

The Home Office announced the immigration removal centre near Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, will close at the end of 2017, with a replacement short-term holding centre to be built close to Glasgow Airport.

Dungavel has been branded "racist and inhumane" and at the centre of numerous protests by campaigners who have raised concerns over the treatment of detainees and the length of some detentions.

It has long been a political issue, with MSPs demanding an end to the detention of children at the centre, leading to a 2010 Westminster ruling that families detained north of the border would be moved to Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire, with access to specialist family, child and support services.

Detainees have also taken part in action inside Dungavel, with many refusing food in a protest over a suicide at the centre in 2007.

The Home Office said Dungavel, which holds up to 249 detainees and is the only such centre in Scotland, is "under-utilised due to its remote location".

A replacement short-term holding centre is to be built close to Glasgow Airport as part of the UK Government's strategy for a "more efficient and cost-effective detention estate".

Despite welcoming the closure, campaigners and the Scottish Government are seeking assurances over conditions at the new centre.

Human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, who has represented families detained at Dungavel, called the closure "long overdue".

"As far back as 2003 when I represented the Ay family who were Kurdish Asylum seekers, a mother and her four children who sought safety in this country were incarcerated behind barbed wire for over a year," Mr Anwar said.

"Their treatment disregarded the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and subjected the Ay children to psychological torture and symbolised the treatment of other families and children.

"If there is to be a legacy of those who died as a result of suicide at Dungavel or deportation, then immigration and detention policies must be devolved to Scotland so that we can begin to treat those who seek sanctuary with compassion and humanity."

Scotland's Equality Secretary Angela Constance said: "The Scottish Government has long campaigned for the replacement of Dungavel with a more humane system, however by introducing a rapid removal facility there is a real risk that people who have been living in Scotland will either have their opportunities to challenge their deportation restricted or be taken to immigration removal centres far away from their families, friends and legal representation.

"This move could make it considerably more difficult for them to pursue their cases and have serious impacts on their mental health.

"We will be seeking urgent clarification from the UK Government on their proposals and guarantees around the way in which asylum seekers based in Scotland facing deportation will be treated."

Plans for the new centre in Abbotsinch Road beside Glasgow Airport would have just 51 beds and the Home Office said the "vast majority" of stays would be for less than a week.

Dungavel is expected to close near the end of 2017, within a few months of the new facility opening, however Renfrewshire Council said it has not yet received a planning application for the new site.

Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill said: "The new short-term holding facility would provide easy access to London airports, from where most removals take place, meaning those with no right to be in the UK can be removed with less delay.

"Closing Dungavel immigration removal centre as a consequence fits with that approach and will result in a significant saving for the public purse."

The latest in a series of protests was staged outside Dungavel in May as part of a Europe-wide day of action against detention centres.

Hundreds of campaigners, including former detainees, asylum seekers and refugees, took part.

One-time Dungavel detainee Sally Martinez told the crowd: "We believe we can end detention in Scotland. To see so many people here is really inspiring.

"The costs of detention are too great - it has a human cost, a financial cost and a moral cost. Dungavel's time is up."

Refugee and migrant homelessness charity Positive Action In Housing said "good riddance" to Dungavel but believe a short-term holding facility will make it harder for charities and lawyers to help detainees.

Press Association

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