A Scottish politician’s request for an official visit to Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre in South Lanarkshire has been rejected by the Home Office.
Labour MSP Pauline McNeill asked the UK government if she could visit the privately run detention centre due to concerns she holds over conditions and the welfare of detainees.
She described Dungavel as a “disgrace” and has called for a review of the UK Government’s detention policy, but Caroline Nokes MP, Minister of State for Immigration, refused her request for a visit in a letter seen by The Ferret.
Nokes said she would not sanction a visit, and wrote: “I am afraid I am not agreeing to your visit request, as I give preference to constituency MPs. I do however thank you for your interest. You may of course visit any constituents being held at the centre during visiting hours.”
We reported last week that vulnerable women were at risk of exploitation in Dungavel while more than 200 detainees were on watch for self harm in 2017, according to a new report.
The Home Office was advised that a secure unit at the detention centre was “wholly unsuitable” for people with mental health conditions and that health facilities were “not clean”.
The report by Stephen Shaw, a former prison ombudsman for England and Wales, also raised concerns over the time staff took to section people with serious mental health issues.
Dungavel is run by The Geo Group UK Limited, a subsidiary of US company Geo Group, which runs immigration detention centres in the US. Dungavel can hold a maximum of 249 people.
McNeill said: “Dungavel is a disgrace. We detain people for in Britain for longer than any almost other other western democracy and it is time to review the whole policy.
“I have been campaigning to visit so I can see the conditions outlined in this report. As an elected member I demand to see this prison for myself. That is the hall mark of a democratic society. I have been refused a visit for a second time by the Home Office.
“I will carry on trying to get an official visit. In the meantime. I plan to visit any of my constituents who may be detained I am more determined than ever to campaign for reform.”
Dungavel is a disgrace. We detain people for in Britain for longer than any almost other other western democracy and it is time to review the whole policy Pauline McNeill MSP
Kate Alexander, director of Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV), backed McNeill’s demand for a visit and said: “Dungavel is located in Scotland and indefinitely detains people who live in Scotland and who have families in Scotland. SDV visits people in Dungavel every week we see the harm this causes.
“It’s a legitimate area of concern for MSPs, and I’m disappointed that the Home Office have refused this request. The recently published Shaw Review had significant criticisms of Home Office detention policy and of conditions at Dungavel, and Ms McNeill is right to be concerned.”
In reply, the Home Office said that individuals or organisations who do not have a “statutory right of access”, and who wish to view an Immigration Removal Centre, are required under the Detention Centre Rules 2001 to “obtain the permission of the Secretary of State”.
A Home Office spokesman added: “Requests to visit are carefully considered to preserve the privacy and dignity of the individuals detained and to avoid a disproportionate number of visits.”
The Geo Group UK Limited said: “Decisions about who should be detained, where they should be detained and the length of detention are a matter for the Home Office and not the centre operator.
“Stephen Shaw acknowledged that Dungavel IRC has a good reputation and he said it was where he heard the most consistently positive comments from detainees about staff.
“In a comprehensive inspection of the centre, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons found that it maintained a good and supportive environment for detainees and has done excellent work to mitigate the stresses of detention.”