Dungavel's closure: more questions than answers
The Government has announced plans to close Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Dungavel is currently Scotland’s only detention centre and holds 249 men and women. It is proposed that this facility will close at the end of 2017, to be replaced by a 51 person ‘short term holding facility’ at Glasgow Airport.
A reduction in the use of detention was promised as part of the Government’s commitment to detention reform, and the closure of Dungavel within that has been broadly welcomed by campaigners and NGOs.
While we welcome any steps to reduce detention, AVID is concerned that this closure, coupled with the opening of a new facility, does not go far enough to meet the commitments made. For just as this closure is announced, expansions of the two detention centres at Gatwick airport are already underway, increasing those purpose built facilities by 100 beds. Once the new facility at Glasgow Airport is opened, Dungavel’s closure will in fact represent a net reduction of less than 100 bed spaces. A drop in the ocean, in the context of a detention estate of over 3,300.
This move also establishes a very real danger that those at risk of detention in Scotland will now spend up to seven days in a facility where – if similar to other ‘residential’ short term detention centres in other parts of the UK - there will be less access to vital supports such as legal advice, support organisations, NGOs. Those who have ongoing legal challenges in Scotland will face losing that legal support and having to start again within a different system when they are eventually moved to longer term detention centres in England. A further concern is that while held in STHFs, detainees don’t have access to the same protection mechanisms that exist in IRCs, as the Government has never published the equivalent to the Detention Centre Rules for those facilities, despite repeated calls by AVID, ILPA and others. This guidance sets out basic provisions in detention governing, for example, the use of segregation or access to medical care. The rules also set out the infamous Rule 35, the mechanism through which detainees who have survived torture or have mental health needs can be reviewed and released. Despite various consultations and drafts dating back to 2004, the most recent consultation having concluded in April of this year, the elusive rules remain unpublished, and detainees at risk.
Short term holding facilities are notorious for their ‘austere’ conditions, with no natural light, limited ventilation and very little in terms of regime. AVID and others have consistently raised that holding men and women together in such facilities places women at risk; HMIP’s most recent report of a similar facility at Manchester Airport highlighted that women could not lock their doors. We would therefore urge the Government to publish the statutory rules as a matter of urgency and to ensure that learning from the failures of previous STHFs are taken into account in the development of any new facility at Glasgow airport.
The announcement of Dungavel’s closure therefore raises many questions. In January, the Government committed to ‘say more about the plans for the future size and shape of the detention estate’ in a Business Plan, which we were told would be published in May. We hope that this publication is imminent, and can provide some answers.