The Home Office announced today that Dungavel will close toward the end of 2017. It also announced plans to open a new 51 bed Short Term Holding Facility close to Glasgow Airport.
It is clear that this is not the end of immigration detention either in Scotland or in the rest of the UK. The UK Government remains committed to the use of indefinite immigration detention. Indeed in the last month it has emerged that it was actually increasing the number of bed spaces at the two detention centres at Gatwick airport.
This means that despite the closure of Dungavel, men and women living in Scotland will still be at risk of being detained indefinitely for no reason other than the UK Government’s administrative convenience.
The proposed Short Term Holding Facility, like the existing facilities at Pennine House in Manchester and Larne in Northern Ireland, will hold people for up to seven days, after which, they will be moved to one of the other detention centres in England. SDV has serious concerns about this.
- Detention centres in England such as Harmonsdworth and Colnbrook at Heathrow Airport recieve consistently poorer inspection reports than Dungavel. HMIP, in their latest report described parts of Harmondsworth as ‘amongst the worst in the detention estate’. In addition, we know from people we visited in Dungavel who have been moved south that conditions are far worse. One person who we visited for over a year in Dungavel described Dungavel as ‘paradise’ in comparison.
- People in detention in England have far less access to legal support than they have in Scotland. While in Dungavel, people are able to engage a legal aid solicitor of their own choosing to represent them. In England, legal support is provided under the Detention Duty Advice Scheme, which offers a much more limited service.
- Women who are currently detained in Dungavel are likely to be detained in Yarl’s Wood when Dungavel closes. In 2015, inspectors described Yarl’s Wood as ‘a place of national concern’ following reports of the sexual abuse and intimidation of the women held there.
- Conditions at Short Term Holding Facilities are a cause for concern. The last inspection of Pennine House in January 2016 noted that women and men shared facilities and women were unable to lock their bedroom doors. There was ‘no natural light’ and the facilities were ‘austere’ and ‘cold’.
There is now a huge body of evidence to support calls for a wholesale reform of the detention system in the UK. The parliamentary inquiry into detention in 2015 called for the introduction of a 28 day time limit and a move to community based alternatives to detention; the Shaw Review of 2016 described the detention of people with mental health problems as ‘an affront to civilised values’ and called for fundamental reform; and HMIP has been consistently critical of conditions in detention and has called for a time limit. Furthermore, we see every week the harm that detention causes to people detained, to their families and to the communities they are wrenched from.
Detention is unjust. The decision to detain is made by a civil servant, without the scrutiny of a court and it is indefinite. People entering detention have no idea how long they will be there. We have visited people in Dungavel who have been detained for over three years.
Detention has terrible consequences for the people detained and for their families, friends and communities.
Detention is expensive. It costs the UK tax payer around £90 a day to detain someone. That’s more that £32,000 a year.
Detention does not work. According to the UK Government, its purpose is to remove people from the country. But across the UK, more than half of all people leaving detention are released back into the community. In Scotland, the figure is more than three quarters.
The closure of Dungavel addresses none of these issues. It will simply move them to another, arguably worse, place.
SDV would like to be jubilant about the closure of Dungavel, but we can’t be, because people currently living within our communities will continue to be at risk of this inhumane and unjust practice.
We question why the Government has taken this decision to close Dungavel, rather than to announce a programme of reform aimed at ending indefinite detention in the UK.