Week 8: #Unlocked18 visits Dungavel

Week 8: #Unlocked18 visits Dungavel

2019-05-23T10:19:36+01:00 February 18th, 2019|

During week 8, the final full week of Unlocking Detention 2018, we visited Dungavel IRC, in Scotland.

Dungavel is very isolated: more than 30 miles from Glasgow, 14 miles from the nearest train station, 6 miles from the closest town (Strathaven) and no local bus route. It was originally a 19th century hunting lodge and summer retreat for the Duke of Hamilton. Since then it has been used as a prison, hospital and training college, before being converted into an IRC in 2001, with capacity to hold 249 (mostly men, with space for 14 women).

Dungavel is the UK’s only long-term detention facility outside of England. This means that people who are transferred between Dungavel and other IRCs in England have to find a new solicitor each time they cross the English-Scottish border, because of the different legal systems. This can wreak havoc with someone’s bail and immigration case.

In 2016, the government announced that Dungavel would close by the end of 2017. However, this was dependent on opening a new 51-bed short term holding facility at Glasgow airport, and when planning permission was refused, the government abandoned its plans to close Dungavel.

It was a jam-packed week, with 8 blogs published alongside a twitter tour of Dungavel IRC. Read on for a summary of the week.


Among other announcements this week came the news that Campsfield House, slated to close in May 2019, closed ahead of schedule as the last people being held there were transferred or released.

For many autumns to come

Mishka, a member of Freed Voices, shared a letter he wrote to someone very close to him from detention on the eve of his impending removal from the UK. Mishka explained his motivation in publishing this very heartfelt, intimate letter.

One of the reasons I decided to share this piece is to convey the message that detention not only affects the individuals being detained; it affects relationships as well. I also want to convey the message that in detention you have humans, who like many others, have/had their own stories, own reasons, own dreams and hopes; who love/loved other humans and also are being loved/were loved by other humans. Detention is in some ways a graveyard of dreams and hopes and the ghosts of dead dreams and hopes can linger within those walls for months and years.

Separation and abandonment as a result of detention

A. Panquang, a member of Freed Voices (@FreedVoices) and Detention Forum volunteer, wrote a blog reflecting on the long-term impact of indefinite detention on the families and communities of people who have been detained.

The Home Office has said many times that taking one parent away is not separating a family. That is not true. The family remains broken with one parent away. The trauma of separation affects all members of the family, including children, parents and pregnant mothers. I often say that I wouldn’t wish for my worst enemy to experience life in a UK immigration detention centre. The impact on one’s mental health is overwhelming and long-lasting. It is to the UK’s shame that this happens on our shores. 

Because of detention | In spite of detention

Life After Detention (LAD), a group of people with experience of immigration detention based in Glasgow, contributed a collective poem paying tribute to the ways in which detention has shaped their lives. The first part, ‘Because of Detention’, reflects on the ongoing devastation caused by indefinite detention. The second, ‘In spite of detention’, highlights the more positive aspects of building a life after detention, though still in the shadow of it. 

In spite of detention I volunteer with three charities

I go for walks in the park

I meet new people in Glasgow

I am going to make a new life for myself

I have plans to be successful

In spite of detention, my friends have regained their smile

They have managed to start a life in Glasgow

They found hope again

They fell in love with Scotland

Detention made me stronger than before. I now have confidence to deal with people; to deal with everything

When a “good” inspection report is bad news

Kate Alexander, Director of Scottish Detainee Visitors, provided a critical overview of the latest HMIP inspection report on Dungavel IRC.

I found reading the report profoundly frustrating. Staff at the centre will no doubt be satisfied with the inspectors’ overall assessment of their work. The Home Office will be relieved that the headline findings are not of a centre dominated by violence, abuse and self-harm.

But the fact that an inspection that finds that nearly half of the people detained feel unsafe might be considered a win is a scandal.

We know what needs to happen. The UK Government has said that it wishes to reduce both the scale and length of detention. It is clear what they need to do to achieve that. They must immediately introduce a 28 day time limit on detention, end the detention of vulnerable people and support the development of a range of community based alternatives to detention.

Hidden in plain sight: Working with trafficked people in detention

Beatrice Grasso writes about a recent report from JRS UK on the indefinite detention of trafficking survivors. While JRS’s research draws on case studies from Harmondsworth and Colnbrook immigration removal centres (IRCs), this issue affects people detained across the UK. The campaign #DucMakesGlasgow highlighted the plight of Duc, a trafficking survivor detained in Dungavel and Colnbrook IRCs earlier this year.

The negative impact that continued detention has on these men can hardly be underestimated. All of them tell us that detention reminds them of their previous captivity at the hands of their traffickers, and that this leads them to having flashbacks, nightmares and re-experiencing the abuse. Most of them carry physical marks of the torture, scars as visible reminders of what has happened to them, and other health problems resulting from a long history of abuse. And yet, they are often not officially recognised as victims, and even when their accounts are accepted, they are kept in detention because of their “unacceptable behaviour” or the “danger to the public” because of their convictions, a direct result of their exploitation. Despite showing clear indicators of abuse and vulnerability, they remain hidden in plain sight of those authorities who should protect them.

‘If I don’t come back, call my lawyer’: Practical solidarity for people at risk of detention

Luke Butterly from Right to Remain, a UK-based human rights organisation challenging injustice in our asylum and immigration systems, wrote about ways of supporting people at risk of being detained while reporting.

If you are involved in a community project supporting asylum seekers or other migrants, you can set up a scheme to help people to prepare for, avoid, or better deal with detention and the threat of detention.

A signing support system also means that the person going to sign knows people are looking out for them, and that there is a plan in place if things go wrong and they are detained. This can reduce the psychological burden of reporting at the Home Office.

A system like this can save valuable time: friends and supporters can start finding out exactly where the person is, what has happened, and what can be done to help straight away.

Ultimately, none of us are free until we get rid of this unjust and inhumane policy altogether. Standing with those at risk of detention can play a real role in both supporting people today, and building the kind of society we want for tomorrow.


Rebuilding a life after detention

Indre Lechtimiakyte, caseworker and coordinator of the Ex-Detainee Project for Samphire, reflects on her work assisting people who have been released from immigration detention.

In the beginning it was exceptionally difficult. What do you say to a fellow human being who is overcome with emotion when talking to you on the end of the telephone, because, after living in this country for 15 years, they find themselves separated from their family? He wants you to buy him bus tickets to go to see his family and to say goodbye for the last time. How do you explain to a homeless individual that homeless charities will not help him, because he has no recourse to public funds? Or that the charity has run out of emergency money that month so can’t give him cash to wash his clothes?

Life after closure: The experiences of the Verne Visitors Group

In a timely blog given the recent closure of Campsfield IRC, Ruth Jacobson from the Verne Visitors Group explains what has happened to the group since the Verne’s closure a year earlier.

Looking back on the year since closure, we are cautiously optimistic for the future. At the broader level, it does seem that attention is finally being paid to the injustices of the current system. Within our local area of operation, we know that the experiences of visiting will stay with our members for far longer than the lifetime of the Verne IRC and will help them to take on the challenges we all encounter from biased and/or misinformed conversations in our local communities.

Unlocking Detention timeline 2014-2018

To mark the end of #Unlocked18 and five years of Unlocking Detention, we completed our Unlocking Detention timeline, which highlights campaigning and advocacy achievements over five years of detention reform.

#Unlocked18 draws to a close

As this was the last full week of #Unlocked18, with the tour finishing on International Migrants Day on 18 December 2018, we shared some highlights from what has been a vivid and thought-provoking couple of months.