I have seen the razor wire ... if Dungavel isn’t a prison then I don’t know what is

Last week, myself and local SNP candidate Dr Lisa Cameron saw one of the most worrying sites in Scotland. Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre is a prison where some of the world’s most vulnerable people are locked up, without trial and without time restraint. The UK Government calls such places “migrant detention centres” but let me be clear: I have seen the razor wire and if Dungavel isn’t a prison, I don’t know what is.

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Published in The National 27 April 2015

The UK is the only member of the European Union to permit indefinite detention of migrants. That this is going on right now in Scotland is chilling – and is representative of the main Westminster parties’ attitudes towards migrants. We need change.

This is not a small-scale issue. In 2013, the UK locked up more migrants than it received asylum applications; 228 children were among more than 30,000 people put behind bars in our name. What sort of a government has a system that treats the vulnerable and dispossessed in this way? 

In a further disturbing development, representatives from the Scottish Refugee Council, the Church of Scotland and the Muslim Council of Britain were refused access to the centre to assess the welfare of detainees. The Home Office must change its mind; we need to know what happens behind the wire.

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Alyn with Dr Lisa Cameron (SNP Candidate for East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow) outside Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre 

In Dungavel, around 200 people are detained. They have no hope of release except by the benevolence of the British state. One man had been locked up for almost two-and-a-half years. It is therefore unsurprising the United Nations Committee Against Torture urged the Coalition Government to do what is needed to end indefinite detention. These cries have fallen on deaf ears. Centres such as these are the product of inhuman immigration polices coming from a Conservative Party whose agenda is driven by fear of Ukip.

Clearly, this is too important an issue to be reduced merely to cost, but there is a serious point to be raised from looking at the finances of Dungavel. Each migrant who is locked up costs the taxpayer £97 per day, the profits of which go to the centre’s operator, Geo Group. This is the same Geo Group that ran the “Migrant Operations Center” at Guantanamo Bay. Meanwhile, a case at a similar institution run by the company in England caused outcry: an 84-year-old man diagnosed with Alzheimer’s was handcuffed and left alone for five hours. When the guards returned, he was dead. This company now gets Scottish taxpayers’ money.

This is not the norm in Europe and that we are so out of kilter with our neighbours is disturbing. The UK is the only country in the EU not to cap the length of time a migrant can be detained. In 2008, the European Parliament passed a directive to govern the practice of returning illegal migrants to their place of origin. This is a piece of legislation I voted against because I felt (and still feel) it did not contain safeguards to guarantee the basic human rights that we should expect of the EU. The directive is now one of the many pieces of legislation that, through various opt-outs, the UK ignores. It is therefore with a heavy heart I point out that if the UK opted in, the situation faced by those detained would improve. It is truly horrifying that a set of rules as inadequate as the Returns Directive would help the situation.

In the voting booths at the forthcoming General Election, voters will face a stark choice. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have presided over this inhumane system; the Labour Party is currently busy selling mugs pledging to “control” immigration. This rhetoric and the policies derived from it are not humanitarian. 

The SNP have consistently demanded that Scotland have a humane immigration system reflecting the needs and aspirations of country, which is why the White Paper on independence included a pledge to close Dungavel. Though the referendum result closed that avenue, by sending a large numbers of SNP MPs such as Lisa to Westminster, Scotland will have a strong voice to proclaim that Dungavel is neither needed, wanted nor not acceptable in our country.