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Last Updated: Friday, 5 September, 2003, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Dungavel: Target of asylum campaign
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Dungavel

If there is a word that has become identified with what asylum campaigners see as the most contentious part of the process, then it is Dungavel.

This privately-run centre for up to 150 detainees in Lanarkshire, spends its time trying to quietly get on with the difficult business of holding failed asylum seekers prior to their deportation.

These are people who the government says have exhausted their legal avenues and, crucially, believes are at risk of disappearing unless they are held.

Dungavel is not the only place in the country carrying out this work. It's not even the biggest.

But this weekend it witnessed another round of protests as it became the battleground over whether or not the state should be allowed to detain children who have committed no crimes.

How detention works

Asylum itself is one of the few issues with local effects that is run entirely from London rather than being a devolved matter.

It has been suggested that Dungavel is some kind of Scottish Guantanamo Bay - this is an outrageous suggestion
Immigration minister Beverley Hughes
There are about 2,000 detention places and since October 2001 the government has followed a policy of expanding the system to hold more people.

As of the end of June, there were some 1,355 people detained in removal centres, about 120 of them at Dungavel.

Immigration authorities can place people in asylum at any time during their application under powers set out in 1971.

The government says removal centres like Dungavel (the phrase detention centre was dropped last year) are not prisons and that those held have freedom of movement, association and are treated with dignity.

But what protesters including lawyers say is those held have less rights than suspected criminals because they cannot rely on an automatic review of their detention by the courts.

Secondly, they argue, the centres unfairly restrict an individual's right to fight a case because of limited access to legal advice, be it in person or through phone calls.

And in physical terms, they suggest the presence of barbed wire, locked doors and other restrictions do little to dispel the sense of being in prison.

Length of detention

But what continues to prove the most controversial is how long asylum seekers, sometimes including entire families, are being held without any outcome.

Newroz, Beriwan, Dilovan, and Medya Ay
Ay family: Focus of a public campaign
In the last year official statistics showed some 55 people were held for more than 12 months, neither being released nor deported.

As for families, there are approximately 150 places for them in the removal system. According to Bail for Immigration Detainees (Bid) a human rights monitoring charity, about a third of these are filled at any one time. Just over 60 of these places are at Dungavel.

Bid says its analysis of the system last year found families being held for anything from 60 to 161 days.

Since then, the case of the Ay family at Dungavel has set a new record of sorts.

Immigration authorities held the Kurdish mother and her four children at the centre for just over a year prior to their deportation to Germany this summer.

Official condemnation

The campaign groups believe they have recently been boosted by two official reports by Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

In the first, she branded three of the removal centres in England "unsafe" because detainees simply did not know what was going to happen to them. In one of them, Haslar near Southampton, there has since been a suicide and two hunger strikes.

But her latest report specifically criticises Dungavel itself.

"The detention of children should be an exceptional measure and should not exceed a very short period - no more than a matter of days," she said.

"The welfare and development of children is likely to be compromised by detention, however humane the provisions, and that will increase the longer detention is maintained."

Campaigners against Dungavel say the Scottish Executive should speak out. The executive refers people to the Home Office saying it has no powers in the area. For its part, the Home Office wholly defends the centre, saying it would not be needed if the actions of some of the parents had not made it necessary.

Immigration minister Beverley Hughes said: "It has been suggested that Dungavel is some kind of Scottish Guantanamo Bay.

"This is an outrageous suggestion and offensive to the local people who work at the centre."

She stressed that the recent prisons' inspection report also described Dungavel as fair and decent where detainees were well-treated.

"Immigration is a reserved matter and I am happy to be accountable for explaining why detention is necessary.

"But it is important that healthy debate on these matters is not distorted by lies and misinformation."




SEE ALSO:
Labour MSPs speak out on Dungavel
05 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Asylum centres 'not for children'
15 Aug 03  |  Scotland
SNP seeks Dungavel inquiry
09 Aug 03  |  Scotland
Report exposes devolution tension
15 Aug 03  |  Scotland
Government defends Dungavel
16 Jul 03  |  Scotland



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