Scotland welcomes coalition policy to end child detention

The new coalition government’s policy programme made a welcome commitment to “end the detention of children for immigration purposes”.

Amidst all the politicking of the last few weeks, the document outlining the new coalition government’s policy programme made a welcome commitment to “end the detention of children for immigration purposes”. In Scotland, the policy meant the deeply unpopular Dungavel Immigration Detention Centre would end the practice of detaining children, a decision which has been welcomed across the political spectrum.

During last week’s First Minister’s Questions, the Lib Dem Leader at Holyrood, Tavish Scott said:

“The new Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland’s first call was to the First Minister, and the new Government has already announced that the shameful and unacceptable detention of children at the Dungavel detention centre will end.”

In making his point, Scott referred to a case in March which saw two five year old Nigerian twins taken to the centre, which is surrounded by barbed wire, in their school uniforms.

At the time, the Rev Ian Galloway, a Minister in the Church of Scotland, said:

“The General Assembly, along with many others in Scotland, have expressed their abhorrence at the practice of detaining young children and have asked the Scottish Government to end this brutal and inhumane regime.

“Here is the latest example of young children being put in distressing circumstances without any indication that they have done anything other than what has been asked of them.”

In the face of such assurances last week from the new UK government that Dungavel would no longer house children, serious questions are now being asked as to why an eight-month-old baby girl was sent to the facility with her Pakistani mother just two days ago.

Reacting to the news, Tom Baillie, children’s commissioner for Scotland was clear in his condemnation:

“It appears the pledge to stop children of asylum-seeking families from being detained – effectively imprisoned – is worth next to nothing, less than a week after it was trumpeted by politicians.

“Based on the limited information I have on this case, I would urge authorities to work swiftly to release the child and the mother, to ensure that they stay together, and to place the child’s welfare at the heart of decision-making about the pair’s future.

Reacting to the news, SNP MSP Christina McKelvie, whose Central Scotland region includes the detention centre, called on the UK Government to end the practice of child detention as a matter of urgency:

“Last week the Lib Dems claimed the detention of children at Dungavel had ended. Today an eight month old baby is being held behind bars in Scotland.

“Children should not find themselves behind bars in a humane immigration system and if the Lib Dem deal means anything the new Scottish Secretary and Tavish Scott must act to ensure this child, and all others are not detained in Dungavel for one more day.”

In a statement, the new immigration minister, Damian Green, said:

Our coalition government is committed to ending the detention of children for immigration purposes. I hope that we can have plans agreed within the next few months. Whilst this immediate review is ongoing, current policy remains in place.”

“This work has already started, because it is in all our interests, including those children currently in detention, to do it quickly, but to also do it well and safely. While keeping children’s welfare at the heart of what we do, our government is committed to returning those with no right to stay in the UK.”

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