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The Herald (Glasgow)

September 9, 2016 Friday

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BYLINE: Kate Devlin

ASYLUM seekers face rapid removal from Scotland and restrictions on their right to appeal deportation under plans to replace the notorious Dungavel holding centre with a “short-term” unit near Glasgow Airport, campaigners warn.

The Home Office yesterday announced the closure of the controversial Strathaven-based facility, which has held thousands of refugees and their families since 2001.

Many of the refugees were locked up indefinitely, including four children in the Ay family from Kurdistan, who were incarcerated for more than a year before deportation, sparking long-standing campaigns to close the immigration unit in South Lanarkshire.

Last night, Conservative immigration minister Robert Goodwill said that asylum seekers will spend less than a week in the new short-term centre, which has easy access to London airports – the departure point for most deportations – and would mean those with “no right to be in the UK can be removed with less delay”.

He added that the replacement unit, which would open by the end of next year, represents a “significant saving” for taxpayers.

Human rights campaigner Robina Qureshi, the director of migrant homeless charity Positive Action in Housing, said Dungavel had been a “scar” on  Scottish soil that contributed to the suicide of several asylum seekers.

But she raised concerns about the plans for its replacement.

Ms Qureshi said: “A short-term holding facility will be built at Glasgow Airport, making it easier to remove people to London airports, from where most removals take place.

“It will be harder for lawyers and support networks to organise appeals at the 11th hour.”

Former immigration lawyer Stuart McDonald MP said the decision to move the detention centre did not appear to be an attempt to reduce the volume of detainees, but a tactic to “keep them beyond the reach of their legal advisers”.

The SNP spokesman for immigration, asylum and border control said: “The new short-term facility’s location will give the Government easy access to  Glasgow Airport and also to airports in London, therefore making it easier for the UK Government to continue its policy of forced removal of migrants who have settled in the UK, and there is a risk that people who have been living in  Scotland will have little opportunity to challenge their deportation.”

The Scottish Government, which has campaigned to replace Dungavel with a “humane” alternative, has sought an urgent clarification from the UK Government on its proposals, and guarantees over the treatment of Scotland-based asylum seekers.

Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities, said: “By introducing a rapid-removal facility there is a real risk that people who have been living in  Scotland will either have their opportu­nities to challenge their deportation restricted or be taken to immigration removal centres far away from their families, friends and legal representation.”

This view was echoed by Gary Christie, of the Scottish Refugee Council, who demanded “swift assurances” from the Home Office that Dungavel refugees would not be “moved indiscriminately” to other detention units across the UK.

He said: “We know that being moved around the UK has an impact on people’s ability to access legal advice, as Scottish solicitors cannot represent people if they are moved away to centres in England.

“Loneliness and isolation put people’s health and wellbeing at further risk, and this will only worsen if people are moved away from their support networks.”

Campaigns to close the Dungavel centre, a former prison, were launched within months of its opening.

It was claimed that men, women and children were being “psychologically terrorised 24 hours a day”, and incarcerated despite having committed no crime.

By 2006, more than 120 children were being held at Dungavel.