Try telling a 14-year-old who lives behind razor wire that her 'home' is not a prison

The IoS gains exclusive access to Dungavel Detention Centre where a Kurdish family has been held for more than 11 months
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Indy Politics

Beriwan Ay loves Mondays. It's the one day of the week when her monotonous existence as a detainee of Britain's asylum policy is broken by a chance to play table-tennis. If she's really lucky she might even get a banana.

While other schoolgirls throughout Britain tackle everyday teenage angst, the 14-year-old Kurdish asylumseeker has only one wish - freedom.

For the past 11 months and five days, Beriwan Ay and her mother, three sisters and younger brother have been held at the Dungavel Detention Centre in Lanarkshire. They are believed to be the longest-serving children in detention centres.

Campaigners say the detention of young children in asylum centres is an abuse of human rights and should end immediately. The Independent on Sunday has highlighted a number of cases of mistreatment of young people - not only those children held in detention but others, as young as 13, who are left to fend for themselves in hostels and bed and breakfast accommodation.

From the cramped 13ft square room in which they all live, and where they may have to spend at least another year, Beriwan's view of the world has been coloured by the grey steel fence topped with razor wire which stands outside her window.

Officially it's not a prison - but Dungavel, the former hunting lodge of the Duke of Hamilton, cannot honestly be described as anything else.

Visitors to the imposing Victorian building, sur-rounded by fortified fences and surveillance cameras, are fingerprinted and photographed on arrival and then fingerprinted again when they leave.

No recording equipment, cameras, wallets, bags or outdoor clothing which could help aid an escape are allowed past reception. As friends, family and legal representatives are searched for contraband using hand-held metal detectors, members of the private security company staff, resplendent in blue uniforms reminiscent of a prison warder's, complete with chains of keys hanging from their belts, escort the detainees to a central visitor centre.

Asylum seekers sit in small groups within earshot of a member of security staff who must inspect everything that is passed between visitors and detainees. It is not the most comfortable or relaxing of environments and a world away from the happy homelife enjoyed for three years by the Ay family in Gravesend, Kent, before they were labelled "third-country applicants" and detained.

Despite the fact that Beriwan, her 13-year-old sister Newroz, brother Dilowan, 11, and seven-year-old sister Medya were all born in Germany they regard Kent as home. It is where they tried to build a future away from the fear of oppression in Turkey which had prompted their mother, Yurdurgal, and their father, Salih, to seek a new life in Germany in 1988.

The following year, after the German authorities decided to send them back to Turkey, the family fled to Britain in the back of a lorry and applied for asylum. "Within six months of arriving in Britain the immigration people knew where we came from and should have sent us back to Germany then," said Beriwan yesterday. "Instead we were allowed to settle down, make friends and build a life before they took it all away from us."

Seemingly much older than her 14 years, Beriwan, as the eldest child, has had to act as a translator and emotional support for her mother since her father was deported, first to Germany and then back to Istanbul, a year ago. The family had one phone call from him after he arrived in Turkey but they have not heard from him since and fear for his safety.

"My mother has been told that our next court hearing on 1 or 2 July is not looking good," said a tearful Beriwan contemplating their own likely fate.

"Our lawyer says we don't have a good case though we might be able to appeal to the House of Lords. But that would mean staying in this prison for another year. I don't know if any of us are strong enough for that."

Buses 'to be detention cells'

By Sophie Goodchild, Home Affairs Correspondent

Specially designed buses equipped with detention cells will be used to interrogate asylum-seekers under new plans being drawn up by the Home Office.

Immigration officials will station the buses in small towns where they will be used as mobile reporting centres instead of police stations, enabling the authorities to track people registering for asylum in Britain.

The first of the buses will be tested in August in a three-month pilot scheme. The Home Office hopes to intro-duce nine buses in towns such as Hartlepool and Stockton.

In a letter seen by The Independent on Sunday, the immigration service says that the buses will be used in areas of low population where it would not be "economically viable" to open a reporting centre.

Asylum-seekers will be told where the buses will be parked and to report to them at specific times. The immigration service also says the buses will be stationed in coach parks and used as alternatives to police stations, "freeing up police resources".

It says each bus will have an interview room that will be used for "non-contentious" reasons, for example if asylum-seekers want to speak to staff in confidence.

However, it is understood that using this room in future for detaining asylum-seekers has not been ruled out.

Ian Jeffrey, a Labour member of Redcar and Cleveland Council, said: "This is yet another manifestation of what is a demonising process against asylum-seekers."

A Home Office official said the buses would make registration easier for asylum-seekers and for immigration officials to remove those whose applications were rejected.