Campaigners say good riddance to hated Dungavel detention centre

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One of the numerous demonstrations outside Dungavel Detention Centre.

​Dungavel will close next year - but concerns are raised about its replacement

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8th September 2016 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Campaigners have said “good riddance” to Dungavel detention centre after the Home Office announced the controversial facility is to be closed.

For 15 years the prison-like, barbed wire-surrounded building near Strathaven in Lanarkshire has attracted the ire of refugee rights activists angry at the detention of families.

They say it represented a Westminster-imposed scar on the Scottish landscape.

It has been branded racist and inhumane and has been the subject of numerous demonstrations and vigils.

Now the centre, which can hold up to 249 detainees, is to close by the end of 2017.

There were many lost hope and killed themselves or were constantly self-harming

The Home Office said it wants to replace it with a new "short term" facility near Glasgow Airport.

Originally a 19th century hunting lodge, Dungavel opened as a refugee removal centre in 2001.

The practice of holding children there drew ferocious criticism, until it was stopped in 2010.

For many, Dungavel came to symbolise the inhumanity of the immigration system.

However, UK immigration minister Robert Goodwill admitted that the closure was being driven by money saving measures rather than humanitarian concerns.

He said: "We keep our detention estate under constant review to ensure we have the right resources in the right places.

"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."

Nevertheless, the decision to scrap it was welcomed by campaigners – who added a huge caveat over its proposed replacement.

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

He urged the Scottish Government to seek guarantees from the Home Office that there will be "rigorous and independent accountability" of the replacement facility.

Robina Qureshi, director of anti-racist charity Positive Action In Housing, said: “We say good riddance to Dungavel, which was nothing more than a scar imposed by the Westminster government on Scottish soil.

“Thanks must go to the Scottish Detainee Visitors and the Ayrshire Friends of Refugees who consistently down the years offered support and solidarity to refugees detained there. However, we remain concerned about what happens next to refugees detained in Scotland.

“Dungavel Removal Centre is where thousands of innocent men, women and children have been held indefinitely for nothing more than the crime of being refugees. We campaigned for families and individuals to be released. In 2002 we highlighted the case of the Garza family who were detained for almost a year with their three children.

“Several suicides took place in its 16 year history. We tried our best to get names and stories out there in order to let the public know that innocent people were being locked up indefinitely, and that this was an unjust way to treat human beings. There were many lost hope and killed themselves or were constantly self-harming.

“We calculated that it was cheaper to hold people in a five star hotel than in Dungavel. There is no need to lock people up, they should be allowed a fair hearing instead of being removed

“We remain concerned about what happens next. A short term holding facility will be built at Glasgow Airport making it easier to remove people to London airports from where most removals take place. It will be harder for lawyers and support networks to organise appeals at the eleventh hour."

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, said: “We welcome the planned closure of Dungavel, but we don’t want to see the very serious consequences of detention being shifted to another location. There must be a more humane approach to housing refugees and asylum seekers and efforts made to solve the destructive impact that being in detention causes, and the terrible toll it takes on the most vulnerable people.”

West of Scotland Green MSP Ross Greer said: “The closure will be welcomed by the thousands of people traumatised by their treatment in the prison, who were held against their will in spite of not committing a crime.

“The new facility is an opportunity for the UK government to begin treating these vulnerable people with some dignity and respect. We’re not holding our breath however, given that this is the Home Office which paid for disgusting billboards telling refugees and immigrants to go home and which regularly deports people back to situations where they are in clear danger.”