Prison chief hits out at policy of detaining parents and children

The government’s policy of detaining the children of asylum seekers
has been heavily criticised in an inspection report on Dungavel
Immigration Removal Centre in South Lanarkshire, Scotland.

In the report, Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, says:
“The detention of children should be an exceptional measure, and
should not in any event exceed a very short period – no more than a
matter of daysÉ as the welfare and development of children is
likely to be compromised by detention.”

The report, based on an inspection in October 2002, urges an
independent assessment of the welfare, developmental and
educational needs of each detained child, under international and
UK law, to be undertaken as soon as possible after detention to
inform future decisions surrounding its use.

Despite previous calls by Owers for asylum seeker families with
children to be detained for no longer than seven days, families
continue to be held for long periods at Dungavel, the only centre
routinely to do so. Earlier this month, the Ay family of Kurdish
asylum seekers were deported to Germany following 13 months in
detention at the centre (news, page 6, 14 August).

The report says child protection at the centre is good but there
are “serious shortfalls in the educational provision”. The Scottish
Education Inspectorate carried out a follow-up visit in July and
reported that several issues raised during the inspection had been

However, the improved educational facilities were still only
acceptable for no more than two weeks and could not meet the
educational needs of children detained for longer periods.

Only 15 per cent of surveyed detainees felt safe. Distress was
often caused by the prison-like environment they were being kept
in, the lengthy journey to the centre and the case management by
the Immigration Service combined with difficulty gaining access to
legal representation.

The report recommends detainees should be advised of their rights
to bail, appeals and legal aid within 24 hours of arrival and
should be informed why they are detained and of progress on their
cases. The anti-bullying strategy should be reviewed and education

Meanwhile, Neil MacCormick, Euro MP for the Scottish National
Party, wrote to the commissioner for human rights in the Council of
Europe earlier this month calling on him to visit Dungavel.
MacCormick said that detaining asylum-seeker families for long
periods is a breach of their human rights.

Ending detention of asylum seeker children is a central aim of
Community Care‘s Right to Refuge campaign.

– Report available from

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