Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Wednesday, 19 May 2010 15:23 UK

Child detention to end at Dungavel removal centre

Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre
Children will still undergo health checks at Dungavel

Children will no longer be held at the Dungavel immigration removal centre, the UK immigration minister has announced.

Damian Green said families with children detained in Scotland would now be moved to a specialist centre in Bedfordshire.

He said the policy would be introduced immediately while a review was carried out into the alternatives to detention.

The last family held at Dungavel are thought to be on their way to England.

Supporters of Pakistani woman Sehar Shebaz and her eight-month-old daughter Wanya, who were taken to the centre on Monday after reporting to officials in Glasgow, said they were being transferred to the Yarl's Wood centre in Bedfordshire.

The family's case sparked outcry as it emerged just days after a commitment to ending the detention of children at Dungavel was announced as part of the coalition deal agreed between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

We hope that the coalition government is not simply transferring the shameful practice of child detention from Scotland to England
Robina Qureshi
Positive Action in Housing

Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell wrote to new Home Secretary Theresa May outlining his "strong concerns" about the detention of Sehar Shebaz and her daughter.

Charities have criticised the fact that children will still be detained and some campaigners have decribed the move as a "joke" because families will be transported to England.

Announcing the end of the practice at Dungavel, Mr Green said: "This is something which many groups in Scotland have been calling for, and we are now delivering this positive outcome.

"We are committed to ending the detention of all children for immigration purposes. I hope that we can have plans agreed within the next few months."

He said families detained in Scotland may undergo initial health and welfare screening at Dungavel, in Lanarkshire, but will then be moved to Yarl's Wood.

John Wilkes, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, described the move as a "good step" but said the issue was the detention of children, not where they are detained.

"I've visited both places and they are detention centres," he said.

"All this means is that while they work out the new process that they are going to put in place, children are still going to be detained, it seems - they're just going to be taken down to England to be detained instead.

"The sooner we end that practice the better."

Robina Qureshi, director of the charity Positive Action in Housing, also welcomed the measure, but added: "We hope that the coalition government is not simply transferring the shameful practice of child detention from Scotland to England in the interim while alternatives to detention are found.

"The announcement suggests that Scottish asylum children will simply be transferred directly to England instead, therefore taking the problem off Scottish soil.

Sehar Shebaz and daughter Wanya
Sehar Shebaz and daughter Wanya were taken to Dungavel on Monday

"If this is the case then Scottish asylum families can still expect to be incarcerated, only they will be driven hundreds of miles away to England to be locked up."

The UK Border Agency is working with the Scottish government, Glasgow City Council, and the voluntary sector to establish alternatives to detention.

Mr Green said: "I have already announced the launch of a comprehensive review of alternatives to child detention, including opening a dialogue with relevant stakeholders, organisations and experts.

"This work has now started, because it is in all our interests, including those children currently in detention, to do it quickly, but to also do it well and safely."

First Minister Alex Salmond welcomed the announcement.

'A stain'

He said: "I have still to see the detail of what provision is being made in terms of the children concerned and we will want to have a close look at that.

"But as a principle I welcome the ending of detention of children at Dungavel.

"That has never been in my view an acceptable practice. It's been a stain on Scotland's reputation."

The Scottish government is to liaise with the Home Office about the implications of the announcement.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Tavish Scott, told BBC Scotland he had lobbied for a speedy end to the detention of children at Dungavel.

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