Week 9: #Unlocked17 visits Dungavel

In the ninth and final visit of #Unlocked17, the focus was on Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre.
Dungavel is 30 miles from Glasgow on country roads, with a journey time of about 45 minutes. But people are brought here from all over the UK, so a journey to visit a loved one in detention may take far longer than that. It’s also very hard to reach by public transport.
Tucked away in the woods, in this inaccessible location, up to 235 men and 14 women can be detained at any one time, with no idea when they will be released.


In September, a man detained in Dungavel was found dead. On the same day, another man detained in Dungavel wrote this letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd. He asked, “Rule is same for all. If a person loses his life then what are the rules for? Rules are meant to keep people safe.”

Visiting Dungavel

Volunteers with Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV, @SDVisitors) make the journey to Dungavel by car, two evenings a week. SDV volunteers have been visiting Dungavel for 15 years.
The first blog of the week was written by Kate Alexander, Director of SDV. Kate reflects on another year of visiting Dungavel, and takes us on the journey that visitors make. Visitors also prepare a report after every visit. In her blog, Kate highlights the recurring themes in these reports, such as visitors’ concerns about people’s health in detention:

“D can’t sleep at night and seems to be having some mental health problems. His relationship has broken down since he’s been in detention”
“T is a priority for visit. He’s lost a lot of weight, isn’t eating well and seems very stressed”.

Frequently, this concern is linked to the length people have been detained:

“We’d not seen M for a while. His mental health has deteriorated a lot. He’s been in Dungavel for more than six months now.”

And much of the frustration, distress and anger about their detention, finds expression in people’s worry about their families on the outside:

“D was very distressed. His wife has been in hospital and is still very unwell. He’s really afraid of deportation”
“C was pinning his hopes on his bail hearing next week. He’s worried about his pregnant wife”


SDV regularly tweet extracts of visitors reports from their twitter account. Follow them here.


In this video, produced by Justice and Peace Scotland, participants at a Dungavel solidarity gathering, experts-by-experience, and others, explain why Dungavel is ‘Scotland’s Shame’. One man who had been detained in Dungavel spoke about the impact of visitors from SDV:


The second blog of the week came from Jawad Anjum and Steve Rolfe, activists with Global Justice Glasgow, a group of committed people who campaign to tackle the root causes of global poverty and injustice as part of Global Justice Now. They wrote for Unlocking Detention about a lively campaign that is going on in Scotland.

Life After Detention

This week also saw the launch of a new film by the Life After Detention group, from Glasgow. In the film, members of the group describe their experiences post-detention:

“Home Office, they have put fear inside us. It is really difficult to get rid of this fear. Sometimes it appears in dreams at night. Sometimes it comes in a different way during the day.”
“I’m not what I was. Sometimes I think that there is a banner on my face, everyone knows that I have been in detention. It has just changed all my whole personality.”

Oral histories of immigration detention

The University of Glasgow held an event this week on oral histories of immigration detention, as as part of #Unlocked17’s ‘visit’ to Dungavel. You can read a Storify of the event here.

Your selfies

You’ve continued to share your selfies and show your opposition to detention throughout this final visit of #Unlocked17. Here are a few of them…

Life After Detention: A Film

The harm caused by detention does not end once a person is released. For many, the trauma of detention, and the struggles with uncertainty, continue.
This is the subject of ‘Life After Detention’, a new film made in collaboration with the Life After Detention group from Scottish Detainee Visitors. The group filmed aspects of their life in Glasgow on their mobile phones and worked with film-maker and SDV volunteer, Alice Myers, to create the film. It was premiered at an Unlocking Detention event on Tuesday 12 December at the Glad Cafe in Glasgow.
The Life After Detention group are a group of men and women who have been detained. The group provides peer support, casework and a space for creative activity. They have published writing on SDV’s website, and have performed their work at SDV events, including at SDV’s joint meeting at the Scottish Parliament with UNHCR, Detention Action and the Detention Forum. The ten people in the Life After Detention group were detained for four years and eight months in total.
You can watch the film below, and through this link.

In the film, members of the group describe their experiences post-detention:
“Home Office, they have put fear inside us. It is really difficult to get rid of this fear. Sometimes it appears in dreams at night. Sometimes it comes in a different way during the day.”
“I’m not what I was. Sometimes I think that there is a banner on my face, everyone knows that I have been in detention. It has just changed all my whole personality.”
“I’m not who I was three years ago. I felt very strong… now I don’t feel such strength. When you know lots of people around you, you think that they as a human, they have rights. But you don’t have rights as a human. So that is really painful, because then you realise that you are not human.”
The long-lasting effects of indefinite detention are a theme we have heard throughout this year’s Unlocking Detention tour; for example, in Juan’s poem about the planned closure of the Verne, part of which says,
“When you have experienced detention, you walk every day with the experience on your back.
It is a trauma that follows you everywhere.
You are always looking behind you. 
I think a part of me died in detention.
I am different person now.”

If only everyone could be welcomed as warmly as Paddington…

Jawad Anjum and Steve Rolfe are activists with Global Justice Glasgow, a group of committed people who campaign to tackle the root causes of global poverty and injustice as part of Global Justice Now, a democratic movement in the UK which campaigns in solidarity with people in the global South. They write for Unlocking Detention about a lively campaign that is going on in Scotland.  
As part of Global Justice Now, we campaign on issues of global poverty and inequality – trying to change the policies and actions of the UK government and UK based corporations that perpetuate injustice. Around migration, these problems come to the fore when we start to investigate the reasons why people migrate or seek asylum the role of the UK in fostering those conditions. There is no migrant crisis – there’s a crisis caused by war, poverty and inequality.
In recent years we’ve campaigned on a number of issues that drive people to risk their lives in moving around the world, including climate change, food sovereignty and trade. Right now, in the wake of Brexit, trade deals skewed towards profiting multinational corporations to the detriment of developing nations such as TISA will inform future patterns of migration to and from the UK and around the world.
We’re now campaigning directly on migration, joining up with all the incredible organisations who already work on issues around migration, detention and freedom of movement. Throughout 2017 we’ve also been joined by our migrant friend from darkest Peru, helping us to highlight the injustices of UK migration policy – he even joined us on a solidarity visit to Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre.

The connections between the UK’s wider policies on issues such as trade and policies on immigration are undeniable. There have been seven immigration acts passed by the UK parliament in the last eight years, all of them intended to make life harder for undocumented migrants. Finance and goods are granted freedom of movement, whilst people face increasing barriers at the border.
And if people do manage to get into the UK ‘illegally’, they are at risk of being detained without trial or time limit. In Scotland, the recent death of a Chinese man at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre has brought the detention centre into the spotlight once again. A detainee’s email to Home Secretary Amber Rudd in response to this death perfectly highlights the cry of those whose liberty is wrenched from them just as they reach out for refuge and sanctuary.
Browsing the web page for Dungavel on the GEO group’s website, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a luxurious estate fit for a weekend jaunt to the country. This, of course, only serves to hide the darker realities of life inside its walls which are better symbolised by the high metal fences and barbed wires that surrounds it. While the private operators of what is called ‘Scotland’s Shame’ profit handsomely from detention, its detainees continue to suffer.
GEO group donated heavily to Donald Trump’s campaign in the United States and continues to lobby for private prison contracts. Trump’s subsequent crackdown on immigration across the board has been a great boon to the corporation which has seen rising profits and stock prices as a result. The group runs around 104 detention centres worldwide, including on Guantanamo Bay.

The adverse effects on mental health alone should justify government action for the implementation of alternative solutions. A parliamentary enquiry into the same details this, in particular, with regards to the lack of any time limit on detention – a situation in Europe which is unique to the UK.
The aforementioned enquiry outlines the lack of adequate healthcare in immigration removal centres, the detention of victims of trafficking and torture (rather than referral), women feeling intimidated by male staff, the ‘prison-like’ conditions and restrictions on internet access vital for detainee’s connection to the outside world.
Take action and contact your MP to ask for an end to indefinite detention.
The litany of cases of needless suffering caused by detention would require an anthology of its own to detail properly. Whether it’s denying people proper support and formal education, holding someone for two and a half years (11 months of which were in Dungavel) or the high numbers of suicide attempts, the evidence against such excessive use of detention is overwhelming.
In the spotlight is where this detention centre needs to be; away from the shadows, the darkness where the voices of its detainees are not heard and their stories not told. Even when driven to hunger strikes, the coverage of their plight is pitifully under reported throughout the British media.
This ties into the British media’s portrayal of immigrants as a whole. It becomes particularly cruel during times of crisis, such as we see in the Mediterranean. When support is most badly needed to enable refugees to seek protection and establish themselves in a new country, the media is focused on linking asylum seekers to crime and fraud rather than presenting a truthful and balanced view of their situation; a view which might give insight into the underlying problems and allow us to talk about long term solutions rather than vilifying those in the most dire and precarious of situations.
To this end, Global Justice Now is currently campaigning for an inquiry into racism in the Press as well as targeting the Daily Mail specifically, directly and through its advertisers, for its toxic and hateful portrayal of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. One example is that of Marks & Spencers, a company that prides itself on its ethical standards and yet continues to fund hate through its advertising in the Daily Mail. It’s ironic that M&S are using Paddington Bear for their Christmas advertising this year when Paddington himself was an immigrant from deepest, darkest Peru. Under current policy, he would have been considered an undocumented immigrant and may well have ended up in a detention centre!
Take action on these issues through Global Justice Now’s website.
The location of Dungavel certainly doesn’t help the situation. You’ll find this to be the case for other detention centres around the UK. They’re situated in remote locations that are invariably difficult to get to which makes it harder for visitors, family, friends or activists to meet the detainees themselves. This isolation, of course, compounds the harmful effects on the mental health of the detainees.
Despite this, the laudable efforts of volunteers from organisations such as Scottish Detainee Visitors means that the stories of the detainees are reported, the conditions in which they are forced to live are monitored and they are quite often the only familiar faces the detainees see outside of the immigration service.

International Migrant’s Day (18th December) is fast approaching – an ideal opportunity to celebrate ‘a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life’. Global Justice Glasgow will be around the city centre with our friend Paddington Bear to raise awareness of these issues and encourage people to take action.
The core problem with Immigration Removal Centres is simple. You shouldn’t lock people up for indefinite periods of time without a trial or a time limit. It is detrimental to their well-being in ways we still don’t fully understand. We need to look at the root causes of what drives people to a level of such abject desperation that they’re willing to risk life and limb to get to the UK rather than locking them up in far flung corners of the country, in the shadows where they can’t be seen or heard. It’s time for this cruel and unjust practice to end where more humane, community-based alternatives can be arranged and each person regardless of origin or circumstance is treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
 
 

Visiting Dungavel for another year…

This week, #Unlocked17 is visiting Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre. In this blog, Kate Alexander, Director of Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV), reflects on another year of visiting Dungavel, and takes us on the journey that visitors make twice a week. Visitors also prepare a report after every visit, which Kate reviews. Here, she highlights the patterns she sees in these reports: of visitors’ concerns about the health of those in detention, frequently linked to the length of time people have been detained; of people’s frustration, anger and distress at their detention and the complex immigration processes they are caught up in; and of their worries about their families on the outside. 
To learn more about Dungavel, follow SDV on Twitter (@SDVisitors). SDV often tweet extracts from their visitors reports, providing a much-needed insight into the daily struggles of life in detention. 
For Unlocking Detention last year, I wrote a blog about the future of detention in Scotland. The situation was very uncertain. The UK Government had announced that it would close Dungavel, but its plans to build a short term holding facility (STHF) at Glasgow Airport were in disarray following Renfrewshire Council’s refusal of planning permission. The Government had a right to appeal the decision in Renfrewshire and for a time it looked like other sites were under consideration for a STHF. As an organisation, SDV were considering how we might adapt to provide a service to people in a new facility.
As things turned out, in February this year, the Government quietly announced that Dungavel would stay open.
So to our surprise, given where we were this time last year, we can look back on another year of our visitors travelling to Dungavel every week to visit, support and offer solidarity to the people detained there. This blog is about that work.
Every detention centre is different and as a result every organisation supporting people in detention works in a different way. Dungavel’s location, 45 minutes south of Glasgow, along a country road, on no public transport routes means that the only practical way for our visitors to go to Dungavel is by car, so they drive to Dungavel two evenings a week in groups of up to five.
Each visit starts with a meet-up in central Glasgow (or sometimes Edinburgh) and a drive out of the city and along the country roads that lead to Strathaven, the nearest town to Dungavel. We then travel six miles further along the road, through open country and farmland.

Finally, Dungavel comes into view, but it would be really easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there. It’s set back from the road, hidden behind trees. Its history as a hunting lodge for the Dukes of Hamilton explains this and also its unusual appearance compared to many centres in the detention estate. It looks like a rather down at heel country estate – a large white building with turrets set in what would once have been attractive grounds.

Once they have parked, visitors ring a bell outside a cage-like structure built into the high perimeter fence, topped with barbed wire. The door to the cage creaks open and they all go inside, the door clanks closed behind them and they wait inside the cage at an inner gate until a member of Dungavel staff comes to check their ID and let them inside the perimeter fence. The wait can be quite long. Sometimes 15 minutes or more. In the winter it can be very cold, and in the summer they can be prey to the infamous Scottish midge!
Finally, an officer takes them through to reception and books them in, a process that can also take some time. Each visit has an organiser who gives the officer the names of the people they want to visit so they can be called to the visit room. Everyone is searched and ushered through to the visits room, where they wait until people come down to meet them.
After every visit, our visitors prepare a report of the visit and this allows us to monitor what we do and who we see in Dungavel. At the end of every quarter, I sit down and go through all the reports and record the information they contain. It’s a task I really like doing, because I like spreadsheets and numbers and it allows me to collate really useful information for our funders and means we can track trends.
From the reports we know that in the first three quarters of 2017, our visitors made 76 visits to Dungavel and saw 155 people, 28 women and 127 men. We try and strike a balance between visiting people who have been newly detained and people who have been in detention for weeks, months and sometimes years. We also try to prioritise women. There are only 14 places for women at Dungavel, compared to 235 for men, so women can feel particularly isolated and stressed while they are detained there. We see an average of seven people per visit, but each visit is different and our visitors have to be prepared for seeing anything between two and fifteen people.
We saw people from 36 different countries in the first three quarters of this year and a quarter of them were from the EU. In fact, Romanians formed the biggest single nationality among the people we visited until the end of September. The most recent detention statistics from the Home Office show that this is a trend across the detention estate – twenty per cent of people entering detention in the first three quarters of 2017 were EU citizens, but for people entering detention in Dungavel, the figure was higher at 35%. People from China, India, Vietnam and Sudan were also seen in large numbers. Perhaps surprisingly, we also saw people from the USA, Brazil and Bolivia.
But the reports also tell us more. Visitors use them to let other visitors know about problems the people we see are facing, or to share their concerns about them. And it’s this information that tells us most about the harmful impact of detention.
A common theme is our visitors’ concern about people’s health in detention:

“A is not sleeping. He forgets things. He’s been prescribed sleeping pills but is getting no mental health support”
“T still seemed really depressed and angry”
“B is not well. He’s looking worse each visit”
“D can’t sleep at night and seems to be having some mental health problems. His relationship has broken down since he’s been in detention”
“T is a priority for visit. He’s lost a lot of weight, isn’t eating well and seems very stressed”.

Frequently, this concern is linked to the length people have been detained:

“N has been detained for months. He’s frustrated with not hearing from the Home Office and is talking about refusing to eat”
“We’d not seen M for a while. His mental health has deteriorated a lot. He’s been in Dungavel for more than six months now.”

Frustration and distress about indefinite detention can be linked to confusion about the complex immigration processes people are caught up in. While detained at Dungavel, people have better access to legal support than in other centres, but still people find it hard to get legal advice and to understand what is happening to them.

“H has had a letter from the Home Office that he doesn’t understand. He’s not been able to get in touch with his lawyer to discuss it. Asked us to call his lawyer for him”
“T was very upset. He’s been threatened with removal and he’s not heard from his lawyer, despite trying to contact him”

And much of the frustration, distress and anger about their detention, finds expression in people’s worry about their families on the outside:

“D was very distressed. His wife has been in hospital and is still very unwell. He’s really afraid of deportation”
“C was pinning his hopes on his bail hearing next week. He’s worried about his pregnant wife”
“T was very distressed and emotionally volatile. He’s understandably very worried about his wife and children at home”

I’m really proud of the work our visitors do supporting people in detention. But every time I analyse their reports I’m angry that they have to do it. All of the sadness revealed is a direct result of UK Government policy. And we know it doesn’t have to be like this.

Week 9: #Unlocked16 visits Dungavel

This was the final week that Unlocking Detention 2016 visited a specific detention centre, ahead of the round-up final week next week.  And the final visit went to Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre, and the subject of lots of news and campaign activity recently.


As part of #Unlocked16’s virtual visit, the fabulous Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV), who visit and support people held in Dungavel, and also after release, tweeted extracts from their visitor reports:


The first blog post of the week was also from the volunteer visitors of SDV and was one of my (Lisa from Right to Remain) favourite pieces as it managed to be moving, enlightening and heartfelt as well as laugh out loud funny at times.  Visitors were asked to complete the sentence “I’ll never forget”:

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a young Afghani man. He was telling me that he had gone to school one day and when he came home his house and all his family had been destroyed by a bomb. Then he told me that being in Dungavel made him feel worse than anything he had felt before.
I’ll never forget the horror I felt 25 minutes into my first car journey to Dungavel when I realised I’d forgotten my photographic ID. I’ll also never forget the look on the guard’s face when I presented my Partick Thistle season ticket to him as “ID”. Suffice to say, it didn’t work, and a wait of an hour and a half in the car park followed.
I’ll never forget all the people who have thanked me for my visits and for my motherly care (I am somewhat older than the young people we usually see). Some people do eventually get out of detention. I love the way we can keep in touch these days. I now have new friends in London, Glasgow, Inverness and Pakistan and sometimes get phone calls from various African countries It’s such a pleasure to be able to visit those people who live near by and to see photos of other friends’ growing families on Facebook.

Read I’ll never forget here


Kate Alexander, the director of SDV, authored our second Unlocked blog post this week, tackling the vital subject of the future of detention in Scotland, since the announcement of the closure of Dungavel but subsequent rejection of planning permission for a new short-term holding centre at Glasgow airport, billed as its replacement.  

It’s been a funny few months. Just a month before the beginning of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour of detention in the UK, the Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill, announced that Dungavel, the only detention centre in Scotland would close ‘towards the end of 2017’. You might think that this would be a cause of unalloyed celebration but from the announcement it was clear that there was no intention to end the detention of people in Scotland (or anywhere else in the UK). At the same time, the minister announced the intention to build a new short term holding facility at Glasgow airport. And of course, there would still be eight other detention centres in England where people living in communities in Scotland could be taken to be detained.
And then the message changed a little. In October, the Minister said that the closure of Dungavel was dependent on planning permission for the new centre being granted. Maybe he knew something the rest of us didn’t know because a week after he said that, in a surprise decision, Renfrewshire Council rejected the planning application for the new centre.
The Government has a right to appeal that decision and immediately after it was made they said they were considering their position. And then there was silence. But on 24 November, in response to parliamentary questions from Gavin Newlands (the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North), Robert Goodwill repeated that the government were considering their position about an appeal but also that ‘the intended closure of Dungavel immigration removal centre is dependent upon a successful planning application for a new short term holding facility.’ So it sounds like they will consider somewhere else if they can’t build the centre they planned at Glasgow airport.
A short term holding facility, wherever it is located, would bring with it the prospect of people being routinely moved to England after being detained for a few days in Scotland. Clearly that will mean that people’s legal representation will be disrupted. This is of particular concern because of the different legal systems in Scotland and England. It will also mean disruption to people’s family, social and community support – all vital lifelines to people in detention.

Read Unlocking the future of detention in Scotland


Next up on the blog was a piece by campaigner and expert-by-experience, Pinar Aksu, on the need to keep on fighting to end detention in Scotland:

I’m experiencing mixed feelings. As much as I am very happy that it’s been announced that the only detention centre in Scotland will be shut, I also have worries about what it would be replaced with and what it will mean for refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland.
When my family was detained in 2007, twice in Dungavel for 4 days and once in Yarl’s Wood for 2 months, I never knew what detention was.  As I got older, it was then when I noticed the injustice my family and many others went through. Locking people in prison-like detention centres while seeking asylum for safety and future is horrible. Knowing that Dungavel will be gone will erase the memories of my and many families who were detained there.

Read Pinar’s blog post here
The final Unlocking Detention live Q and A with someone currently in detention was with Gil, detained in Dungavel for nearly a year, and it was a heart-breaking one.  Thank you so much to Gil for speaking to us and sharing his views and experiences, and to Ben du Preez of Detention Action, for conducting the interview from the public’s questions, supporting Gil to do the interview AND live tweeting as well – not at all an easy task.  And thanks to SDV too, for putting us in touch with Gil. 
Experience the Q and A here

Live Q&A with Gil, detained in Dungavel

This week Unlocking Detention has been ‘visiting’ Dungavel detention centre, the only detention in Scotland and a site of much contention after the government announced plans earlier this year to close it and open a Short-Term Holding Facility in Glasgow – you can read Scottish Detainee Visitors‘ analysis of the situation as it stands, here. On Friday afternoon, Ben from Detention Action conducted a live Twitter Q&A with Gil, currently detained in Dungavel. Here’s the recap:


 
 

The closure of Dungavel? The fight must continue

By Pinar Aksu.  Pinar works with Migrant Voice as a Community Development worker in Glasgow and with Active Inquiry using Theatre of the Oppressed methods and is also a member of Right to Remain’s management committee.  She has been involved with asylum and refugee rights since a young age.
signtoDungavel700
I’m experiencing mixed feelings. As much as I am very happy that it’s been announced that the only detention centre in Scotland will be shut, I also have worries about what it would be replaced with and what it will mean for refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland.
When my family was detained in 2007, twice in Dungavel for 4 days and once in Yarl’s Wood for 2 months, I never knew what detention was.  As I got older, it was then when I noticed the injustice my family and many others went through. Locking people in prison-like detention centres while seeking asylum for safety and future is horrible. Knowing that Dungavel will be gone will erase the memories of my and many families who were detained there.
When I first read the news headline, ‘Dungavel immigration detention centre to close’, I was extremely happy. I knew that finally, after years of campaigning for the rights and freedom of detainees, we have finally achieved a major victory. I knew that this terrible place where innocent people have been being detained will be gone. Even though this will never bring back the time lost when  people were being detained, for days, weeks, months and years, it would bring an end to the pain in the future. People will be free!
However, as I continued reading the article, I found that not everything is as positive as it sounds at first. The government had plans for a ‘short-term facility’ near Glasgow Airport.   UK Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill says, ‘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’.
People could be removed quicker with the new short-term facility; either to detention centres in England or back to their country of origin. By making this move, the Home Office thinks they can stop us, in Scotland, from campaigning. Wrong! We will campaign more than ever before because we cannot watch money being spent on building walls in Calais or watch the implementation of the Immigration Act 2016 and the scrapping of the Human Rights Act. Now more than ever, we will not and we cannot stop campaigning. We will stand together, organise apply pressure until every detention centre is closed.
No human is illegal. End detention now.

Unlocking the future of detention in Scotland

By Kate Alexander, director of Scottish Detainee Visitors.

dungavel

It’s been a funny few months. Just a month before the beginning of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour of detention in the UK, the Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill, announced that Dungavel, the only detention centre in Scotland would close ‘towards the end of 2017’. You might think that this would be a cause of unalloyed celebration but from the announcement it was clear that there was no intention to end the detention of people in Scotland (or anywhere else in the UK). At the same time, the minister announced the intention to build a new short term holding facility at Glasgow airport. And of course, there would still be eight other detention centres in England where people living in communities in Scotland could be taken to be detained.

And then the message changed a little. In October, the Minister said that the closure of Dungavel was dependent on planning permission for the new centre being granted. Maybe he knew something the rest of us didn’t know because a week after he said that, in a surprise decision, Renfrewshire Council rejected the planning application for the new centre.

The Government has a right to appeal that decision and immediately after it was made they said they were considering their position. And then there was silence. But on 24 November, in response to parliamentary questions from Gavin Newlands (the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North), Robert Goodwill repeated that the government were considering their position about an appeal but also that ‘the intended closure of Dungavel immigration removal centre is dependent upon a successful planning application for a new short term holding facility.’ So it sounds like they will consider somewhere else if they can’t build the centre they planned at Glasgow airport.

A short term holding facility, wherever it is located, would bring with it the prospect of people being routinely moved to England after being detained for a few days in Scotland. Clearly that will mean that people’s legal representation will be disrupted. This is of particular concern because of the different legal systems in Scotland and England. It will also mean disruption to people’s family, social and community support – all vital lifelines to people in detention.

In addition, there are concerns about protections for people detained in Short Term Holding Facilities. The Detention Centre Rules (2001) do not apply to Short Term Holding Facilities and the Government has never published an equivalent set of rules for them. The Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees (AVID) has called this ‘a huge protection gap that leaves many at risk’

Dungavel remaining open, in the short, medium or long term brings with it a continuation of the concerns about detention that many other organisations and individuals in Scotland have long campaigned to raise awareness about and challenge

So here we are, in a state of uncertainty about the shape of detention in Scotland, but with the UK Government clinging on to its policy of holding the threat of indefinite detention over people living in our communities.

Anyone who has been in detention, known anyone who has been detained or read any of the excellent and revealing blogs that have formed part of Unlocking Detention this year knows about the harm that indefinite immigration detention causes. Detention damages people’s physical and mental health, destroys family relationships and leaves communities scarred and weakened.

It also doesn’t do what the Government says it does. More than half the people leaving detention in the UK are released back into the community, not removed. In Dungavel it’s 75%. And it costs £35,000 per year to hold someone in detention. In the words of 2015’s parliamentary inquiry into detention it is “expensive, ineffective and unjust”.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. There is increasing evidence that working with people subject to immigration control within the community using a case management approach, based on early intervention and tailored to the specific needs of different populations is more humane, cheaper and more effective. The Detention Inquiry report highlighted a number of examples of community based alternatives to detention from Europe and the United States, and argued that a shift to such alternatives would encourage better decision making and move the UK away from its focus on end-stage enforcement. More recently, research from Detention Action has also shown that community based alternatives can be successful even with ex-offenders, reducing re- offending and delivering very low rates of absconding.

That has to go alongside better decision making in immigration cases. We know now that the vast majority of people leaving detention from Dungavel come back into the community. In the third quarter of 2016, 199 people were released from Dungavel into the community. Just 88 were removed. So why were they detained? Better decision making would stop this waste of money and the damage it does to the people and communities concerned.

Better post-sentence planning for foreign national ex-offenders is another piece in this jigsaw. Around 40% of people in detention are there because the Government wants to deport them after they have served a criminal sentence. Their detention is often prolonged because there are significant barriers to removal. This could all be sorted out before their sentence ends. Where there are barriers to removal, or voluntary return, people could be released and any risks managed in the community, as they would be for UK nationals.

For certain categories of people (families with children since 2010, and pregnant women since 2016) there is strict time limit of 72 hours on detention (or a week with ministerial approval). With all of the above elements in place, there is no reason why this strict limit couldn’t be extended to other people, meaning that we might truly see detention used as a last resort and very infrequently.

Surely now, with its plans to build a new centre in disarray, rather than floundering around ‘considering its position’ it’s time for the UK Government to take a positive decision to commit to this approach.

Scotland, with its Scottish Government committed to progressive migration policies, its separate legal system, and its wide range of civil society groups and individuals working with migrants, is the ideal place to start.

 

I’ll never forget . . .

visitor
Scottish Detainee Visitors asked their volunteer visitors to write a few sentences about a memorable experience they had while volunteering with them – visiting people detained in Dungavel detention centre. 
They asked them to start with the phrase ‘I’ll never forget….’
Here’s what they said.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a young Afghani man. He was telling me that he had gone to school one day and when he came home his house and all his family had been destroyed by a bomb. Then he told me that being in Dungavel made him feel worse than anything he had felt before.
I’ll never forget the horror I felt 25 minutes into my first car journey to Dungavel when I realised I’d forgotten my photographic ID. I’ll also never forget the look on the guard’s face when I presented my Partick Thistle season ticket to him as “ID”. Suffice to say, it didn’t work, and a wait of an hour and a half in the car park followed.
I’ll never forget all the people who have thanked me for my visits and for my motherly care (I am somewhat older than the young people we usually see). Some people do eventually get out of detention. I love the way we can keep in touch these days. I now have new friends in London, Glasgow, Inverness and Pakistan and sometimes get phone calls from various African countries It’s such a pleasure to be able to visit those people who live near by and to see photos of other friends’ growing families on Facebook.
I’ll never forget my first journey down to Dungavel, feeling very nervous about what I could say or do for those detained there, but it turned out to be far less intimidating than I’d imagined, and I began to realise that, as well as practical advice, the folk there also wanted lighthearted conversations about us and our worlds. On one visit, I even ended up dancing with an African guy, (he didn’t think I could shake my booty!). It made all the others laugh, and one person came up to me afterwards saying thank you, – that was the first time he’d laughed since he arrived. So I still try and get someone to dance with me if they will!
I’ll never forget when a shy skinny Syrian refugee (via translation from another person we were visiting) told me before he fled Syria he was constantly being asked to fight for various different groups. “I am an ordinary man. I am not a political man,” he told me. “I don’t care who is in power as long as I can live in peace. How can I fight for a group when I don’t even know what it is I am fighting for?” I always think of this man when I see comments online from British people suggesting the Syrians should have stayed and fought for their country. I wonder if these people would be quite so confident and brave if they were being used in a tug of war between different militant groups.
I’ll never forget my first visit to Dungavel, and not just because it was only a month ago. I was a little anxious in the car journey, but my fellow visitor put me at ease. When we arrived, I was pretty overwhelmed at the scale of the razor-wire fence surrounding the giant old house. Once fingerprinted and through security, I spent most of my time talking to a young Iraqi-Kurdish man who had been in detention for just a few weeks and was clearly still extremely bewildered at the whole system of detention. I soon realised that I couldn’t offer him any quick fixes, just a sounding board and some empathy. The Sorani-Kurdish phrases I was able to sprinkle into our conversation went a long way to letting the young man know that I was visiting him as a support, rather than being part of the bureaucratic machinery he was fast becoming used to. As it happens, he was released on bail just a few days ago, and I’m going to meet him for lunch today. Having to try and find his feet in a new, freezing cold city must be pretty intimidating for him, but I’m keen to offer him any support I can.
I’ll never forget arriving at Dungavel with three other visitors on a cold winter night. We waited outside in the cold for ages before the gate was opened. And then it took a long time to book us in because we had a lot of things to leave for the people we were visiting and the staff had to record everything. As we waited for all this to be done, one of my fellow visitors sat in reception whistling the theme tune to ‘The Great Escape’.
I’ll never forget when a woman detained in Dungavel quietly told me she had been trafficked and followed it quickly with a shy smile. Later in the visit she told me it wasn’t too bad in Dungavel and everyone was really nice. I had a stark realisation of where I was in the luck end of the scale in the world, simply because of my circumstances and the country I happened to have been born in.
I’ll never forget the first woman I spoke to at length in Dungavel. She had been in the UK for 10 years and was suddenly detained. She was dignified, strong and sad. I realised that while everything we can practically do is important, the best thing we do is listen.
I’ll never forget the first meeting we had with someone newly detained.  He sat down grinning, and, with a flourish, pulled a bar of dark chocolate out of his jacket like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat.  We are not allowed to bring food into the visiting room, and this young guy breaking a bar of chocolate to share with the group also broke the ice.
I’ll never forget a conversation with three people who used to be detained. They described sitting at home, not allowed to work, watching the people outside busily going about their lives.  They would close the curtains, because it was too painful a reminder that their lives, still, were on hold; still under the control of immigration; still not free. One described it as ‘detention without walls’.
I’ll never forget James, who we visited in Dungavel for more than two years. How he managed to stay sane and strong I will never know, but he did. He liked to buy us a drink from the vending machine in the visits room, to try and make the situation feel more like friends meeting in a café or bar. He eventually got out of detention and was able to build a life in Scotland. And a couple of years after that, I danced at his wedding.
I’ll never forget the time we hit a pothole on the way to Dungavel and burst two tyres. Four of us sat in the car until 11pm when the AA arrived. It was winter and snowing and we were stuck in in the middle of nowhere. We kept the engine running to keep warm, shared half a flapjack and a handful of dried apricots. And we played ‘I spy’.
I’ll never forget Rima, the lovely young woman for whom we bought fashion magazines and Asian cloth so she could make her own clothes. She was in Dungavel a very long time, and was scared of being sent back as her family had vowed to kill her. She was sent back. We’d promised to keep in touch and to check on her. A few of us tried writing to her email address several times, but she never replied. I hope she is fine. I worry she is not.

Unlocking Detention 'visits' Dungavel

Last week, Unlocking Detention visited Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre and the final stop of the #Unlocked15 tour.

Also last week, Human Rights Day was held, a stark reminder of the rights being denied to those detained – over 30,000 people every year, deprived of their liberty, indefintely.

Dungavel was an appropriate centre to end our tour on – one of the most distinctive centres, one of the most remote, and one of the most fiercely contested.

 


Throughout Unlocking Detention, we’ve been asking people what THEY would miss if they were detained, without time-limit.  Here’s one response we had last week:


Bridget Holtom, a volunteer for Scottish Detainee Visitors, wrote a very thought-provoking piece on criminality, detention and migration:

As I reflect on where I would now draw the line on immigration and crime and how the debate has changed over time online, it is evident we still have a long way to go. There is still a tendency to talk about the injustice of detaining people who’ve “committed no crime”. Furthermore there is a tendency to emphasise petty crimes and avoid any mention of more serious ones that people may commit. Therefore, there are bigger, unaddressed questions about criminality and immigration that must be unpicked in order to end immigration detention once and for all.


We heard from Alison, whose foster-daughter was detained in Dungavel in 2008 when she was just 16 years old.

I checked my phone for messages:
Received: 10:46, 08-05-2009. Message from home. click. “She’s in Dungavel. Deportation in a week unless solicitor can stop it.”

All the clichés are true. time and space slow down. There is a sudden shaking in my hands. The sound of colleagues talking about submission rates fades and I feel surround by silence. My fingers are heavy. I can’t get the phone to close. My fingers are shaking. I drop the phone. Pause. Breathe in. Turn to the colleague on my right – a gentle man – and make some stumbling apology about needing the phone home. In my feet, the blood from my face. On the stairs my partner picks up:

“It went about as badly as is possible.”
“I’m coming home.”

Read Alison’s Diary of a Dungavel Detention.
On Friday, we spoke to Matthew who is currently detained in Dungavel.  Matthew’s community is in London, so cannot come and visit him. Thankfully, he is supported by Scottish Detainee Visitors but detention is still a very isolating experience.  Read the interview with Matthew here.