Coalition breaks promise not to hold young people in detention centre

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has called on the coalition to come clean on why it has apparently violated one of its first pledges after a report in the Sunday Express claimed that young people are still being detained at Dungavel detention centre, now used by the UK Border Agency as an “immigration removal centre”.

It was announced in August last year that the UK government had awarded a five year contract to run the detention centre to the GEO group, who manage the Guantánamo Bay Migrant Operations Centre which mainly houses Haitian migrants detained at sea attempting to enter the USA.   The company also runs a number of private jails in the US.  The company’s operations in the USA have been dogged by accusations of sexual assaults, human rights violations, and negligence. 

GEO lost a contract to run immigration centres in Australia after a series of allegations of racism and assaults in its centres.  The contract to run Dungavel is worth £25 million.

After entering a coalition with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats made a commitment to end the practice of detaining young people whose immigration status has been questioned in former prisons like Dungavel.   

During the Lib Dem’s autumn conference in Brighton last September, Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore denounced “the casual disregard for compassionate justice with asylum-seekers’ children languishing behind barbed wire.”  He added:  In government, Liberal Democrats are changing that … we have ended child detention as we know it, with not a single child held at Dungavel – now or ever again.”

Mr Moore’s statement was backed up by Conservative Immigration Minister Damien Green who also promised that children and young adults under the age of 18 would no longer be detained and locked up overnight simply because they are asylum seekers or the children of asylum seekers.  Many of these children come from strife and war-torn regions of the world and have been left traumatised by their experiences.

The young families of asylum seekers and children who may be unaccompanied by an adult in this country should, in theory, be held at a “family friendly” centre close to Gatwick Airport.

However the Express revealed that since making this commitment, two 17 year olds have been held in the controversial detention centre at Dungavel, which previously housed an open prison.

SNP Home Affairs spokesperson Pete Wishart MP said:

“After making great play over claims that such detentions had ended, UK Ministers now have serious questions to answer over why youngsters are apparently still being detained at Dungavel despite their claims.

“These detentions contradict explicit commitments made by the Home Office, and we must know whether these detentions were signed-off at Ministerial level?

“Frankly, I have real concerns over the UK Government’s commitment to end this practice.

“While we were told that detentions at Dungavel had ended, there is concern that these detentions have continued under another name with youngsters transported from Scotland to England and held in friendlier sounding ‘pre-departure accommodation’.

“Home Office Ministers must urgently explain this situation and clarify its commitment to ending these detentions.

“These detentions are wrong and must come to an end.”