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‘We, former detainees, demand the closure of Dungavel immigration removal centre’

Today former detainees and their supporters gather to protest at the former prison in South Lanarkshire.

Protesters at Dungavel, Sunday 25 October 2015 (Sally Martinez)

Today we gather with supporters from all over Scotland to call for the closure of Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in South Lanarkshire. We demand the end to the policy of immigration detention across the UK.

“It’s the bad place to be,” says Aisha (not her real name), a former detainee at Dungavel. “It’s more or less like prison, being with an immigration issue makes somebody feel like a criminal, makes us feel like criminals. [Some] guards and staff are very cheeky, treating you like Bull Shit. You cannot do things on your own, there’s no freedom, no personal freedom.” 

Aisha isn’t attending today’s protest. She says that recalling her time in Dungavel “brings back bad memories and flashbacks”.

“I didn’t believe those places exist,” says Daniel (not his real name), who was detained at Dungavel. “If I hadn’t been in there I wouldn’t believe it. All of a sudden you are just locked up for no reason. Then you get treated like an animal.”

Another ex-detainee, who was never released from detention, writes: “I feel I have been robbed by the Home Office. Now my baby girl is almost 6 months. Whenever I see a picture of my daughter I know the UK Border Agency is wicked cause I wasn’t able to be there for my first child in the world.”

He was deported after his asylum case was refused under the Detainee Fast Track system recently declared unlawful by the Court of Appeal.

Dungavel, an immigration centre 50 miles south of Glasgow, holding 249 detainees, has caused suffering since its creation in 2001. It is run for the UK government by the American prisons company GEO Group.

Only last month, on the 28th and 29th of September, two detainees attempted suicide, one by hanging and the other with a blade. The media and Home Office reported on only one of these. The detainee who tried to hang himself was quickly released.

In March this year, hunger strikes broke out at Dungavel: 70 detainees protested against their unfair and indefinite detention and their cramped living conditions.

Protesters at Dungavel, Sunday 25 October 2015 (Sally Martinez)

The UK is the only European Union country that has no cap on the time someone can be detained under immigration powers.

In March, The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Refugees reported that Home Office officials were failing to follow guidance that detention should be used sparingly, that detaining immigrants was a substantial cost to taxpayers and also caused detainees to have mental health issues. The MPs called for a 28 day maximum time limit on immigration detention.

The chief inspector of prisons has also expressed concern at the “unreasonably long” periods some detainees were spending in detention, citing the case of an Iranian detainee held for two and a half years.

Yasmine Clara, from the campaign group We Will Rise who are coordinating today’s protest, said: “We don’t want to see a time limit cap. Detention has no place in the UK. There is no way to operate a humane or safe detention system. This has been proven time and time again through deaths, suicide attempts, hunger strikes and lacking health care.”

Clara went on: “The most recent reports I have received about Dungavel specifically include allegations of guards beating detainees, one who hid under a bed and was dragged out amidst laughter by four large men and forced into a van, another who was admitted into hospital.”

Among this year’s detention centre protests, in June hundreds of protesters protested outside  Yarl’s Wood Removal Centre in Bedfordshire after Channel 4 broadcast undercover footage of guards showing contempt for detainees.

Some Yarl’s Wood staff were filmed referring to inmates as “animals”, “beasties” and “bitches”.

“Headbutt the bitch,” one guard says. “I’d beat her up.”

Another guard says: “They’re animals. They’re beasties. They’re all animals. Caged animals. Take a stick with you and beat them up. Right?”

Michael Tsonga, an ex-detainee of Dungavel attending today’s protest, said: “I did not know when I would be released. The bedrooms were overcrowded and I couldn’t see my family. I had done nothing wrong, it felt like prison.”

One of today’s protesters, James Webber from Glasgow, who has worked as a volunteer supporting refugees, says: “Detention centres are a relatively new phenomenon. They are not necessary and they are not inevitable. It is no way to treat people who have fled torture and persecution. We need justice and freedom, an end to racism and the scapegoating of immigrants.”

Update: Monday 26 October

We estimate there were 200 people in attendance.

Dungavel IRC staff had lawn movers turned on in an attempt to drown out noise but we managed to make contact with detainees inside through a phone number that was held up with long poles.

Demonstrators walked around to the back of the detention centre to stand on a hill where were were able to see detainees in the courtyard and make contact through chanting. Many other detainees had already been locked in their rooms by staff.

Chants throughout the afternoon included “No Borders, No Nations, Stop Deportations” and “Shut down Dungavel, No one Is illegal.”

Speakers were ex-detainees who had been in Dungavel. One ex-detainee shouted over the fence: “Stay strong, we are with you, the Scottish people are with you!” 

Another speaker ended her speech with: “The migrant crisis is not new it is a result of a long history of colonialism...you cannot solve this problem by sending convoys of food and clothes to Calais or by accepting a small number of Syrian refugees or any nationality with the current crisis, the only solution is to open borders and stop racist immigration controls and racist detention centres.”


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