Hackers have brought down the computer system at Scotland’s only immigration detention centre prompting an investigation by Police Scotland, The Ferret can reveal.

The cyber attack took place more than six weeks ago, at the end of January, causing problems for some detainees who have been unable to contact family members and lawyers dealing with their cases.

Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre, South Lanarkshire, holds 249 detainees and is run by GEO Group UK, a subsidiary of US multinational GEO Group which operates prisons across the world.

A charity in Glasgow supporting asylum seekers and refugees said there was “great concern” that the company been unable to get its computer system working again after more than six weeks.

Unity Centre said detainees had been left “isolated” and “legally in the dark”. The centre is currently supporting people detained at Dungavel.

“There has been great concern, raised by solicitors and the majority of the people currently detained that we are in contact with, regarding the failure to resolve the IT and communication system problems,” said a Unity Centre spokesperson.

“The systems have been down for the past six weeks and there seems to be no urgency to resolve the problem. Detainees we have spoken to have expressed their concern with lack of access to emails and problems with the electronic system that gives them access to the shops to buy necessities such as food and communicating with their loved ones and solicitors.”

The fax system had also been reported to be sometimes down. “More concerning are the reports we hear about the guards being openly cynical about the problem being resolved quickly,” added the centre spokesperson.

“This is unacceptable situation and requires urgent action. It is an issue of liberty and access to justice.”

Unity Centre claimed that GEO Group UK made “huge” annual profits. “We feel it is a disgraceful failure of their duty of care that they are leaving people isolated and legally in the dark,” said the centre spokesperson.

“Detention is an inhumane and horrendous way of treating people, and this makes it even worse. We ask for the IMB (Independent Monitoring Board) and MPs to intervene and take accountability of the situation.”

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GEO Group UK was asked to comment but a spokesman referred us to the Home Office.

A Home Office spokesperson told The Ferret: “We can confirm that there was an IT incident at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre in late January and we are urgently working to resolve it. This is being investigated by Police Scotland and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Enquiries are ongoing.”

GEO Group UK previously ran Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre near Heathrow airport in England, the largest immigration detention facility in Europe, which provides 661 beds for single men.

In August 2018 we revealed that Scottish pension funds had invested millions of pounds in firms bankrolling Donald Trump’s migrant camps in the US – including Geo Group.

The pension funds of Scotland’s public service workers held at least £138 million in investment firms backing the president’s immigration detention centres. The funds were managed by international finance firms with huge investments in GEO Group.


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