Dungavel: Anger over immigration centre visit refusal
Trade union, religious and refugee groups have voiced their anger at having been refused access to the Dungavel immigration removal centre.
A delegation led by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) wanted to visit the South Lanarkshire centre to assess the welfare of detainees.
But they were denied access by the Home Office.
A recent BBC Scotland investigation found some Dungavel detainees were being held for more than a year.
A spokesman for the Home Office said: "We can confirm a request to visit Dungavel was received and subsequently declined."
The STUC told BBC Scotland that it was "disappointed" and "angry" at permission for the visit - which would also have included the Scottish Refugee Council, the Church of Scotland and the Muslim Council of Britain - being refused.
Deputy general secretary Dave Moxham said: "A number of organisations without a statutory role in inspection have been granted access to the centre, indeed the STUC was permitted to visit the facility in 2007.
"We are forced to wonder why the government is so worried about organisations such as ours being able to hear the experiences of detainees.
"We have always been clear that the problems for those detained in Dungavel may not originate with the running of the centre itself."
The Church of Scotland said it was "deeply concerned about the wellbeing of asylum seekers at Dungavel".
Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Kirk's Church and Society Council, said: "It is deeply disappointing that the Home Office are refusing to allow us access.
"We, along with the STUC, want to listen to those held at Dungavel, hear their stories and offer whatever support we can.
"The mark of a good society is how we treat the most vulnerable within our borders. Making sure that compassion comes first is our only goal."
It is understood the management at Dungavel - which is outsourced to the private security firm GEO Group - was not opposed to the visit.
BBC Scotland has seen a letter from Hugh Ind, the Home Office's director of compliance for immigration enforcement, to the STUC refusing access to the centre.
It reads: "Under normal circumstances access to IRCs is limited to organisations exercising statutory duties (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons and independent Monitoring Boards), social and legal visitors and other visiting groups.
"I am sorry but I am unable to agree to your visit request at this time."
It goes on to say that "independent scrutiny is a vital part of our assurance that our removal centres are safe, secure and humane" and that immigration removal centres are "part of a rigorous inspection regime operated by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP)".
The letter states that Dungavel was subject to an HMIP inspection in February and that the report will be published after the election.
Mr Moxham said it was "imperative" that the report was published as soon as possible.
Figures released to BBC Scotland in March under Freedom of Information legislation showed that a number of detainees were held at Dungavel for more than six months and that two detainees from Western Sahara and Algeria had been at the centre for more than a year.
Reports subsequently emerged of a hunger strike at the centre, which could not be independently verified.
The Home Office said that although a small number of detainees were refusing meals from the centre canteen, those who did so were purchasing food from the shop located within the facility.
On 18 March this year, the STUC wrote to the Home Secretary Theresa May to outline the groups' concerns about the welfare of detainees and to request an investigation into the claims of a hunger strike.
In an emergency motion passed at its annual congress meeting earlier this week, the STUC condemned the Home Office for declining the delegation's request for access.
'Forgotten its humanity'
It said it would hold a demonstration outside the centre on 30 May and "shine a light on the plight of asylum seekers in a system that has forgotten its humanity."
Finally, it called on the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the Equality and Human rights Commission to cooperate to inspect Dungavel from a human rights perspective.
The SHRC confirmed to BBC Scotland that it intended to engage with its counterpart body in England.
Opened in 2001, Dungavel near Strathaven is Scotland's only immigration removal centre - secure facilities that are used to hold asylum seekers and other migrant groups before their removal from the UK or while their case is being assessed by the Home Office.
Last month a report by a group of MPs called for a time limit of 28 days on detention under immigration powers in centres such as Dungavel.
Following the report's publication, a number of protests developed at removal centres across the UK and an undercover investigation for Channel 4 News alleged racism by staff towards detainees at the Yarl's Wood centre in Bedfordshire.