STUC and Church of Scotland demand access to Dungavel to meet detainees on hunger strike


General-secretary of the STUC makes request in a letter to the manager of Dungavel and home secretary Theresa May

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) has demanded access to a detention centre in Scotland where asylum seekers have been on hunger strike.

As reported exclusively today on CommonSpace and in The National, detainees at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) in South Lanarkshire have been refusing food to protest conditions and the lack of time limit on detentions. (click here to read more)

Scotland’s national trade union body, with the support of the Church of Scotland and the Conforti Institute, has now written to the manager of Dungavel seeking permission for a delegation to visit those who are protesting inside the centre.

The letter, signed by STUC general secretary Graham Smith, says that it is seeking a collective meeting with detainees “who we understand have been refusing food in the prison in protest at their treatment”.

In addition to STUC representatives, the delegation would also include members of Scottish churches and the Scottish Refugee Council.

A letter has also been sent to UK home secretary Theresa May asking for support in the request

The letters express concern “that any issue which gives rise to detainees refusing food should be thoroughly investigated and given voice”.

The strike at Dungavel is the latest in a wave of actions in detention centres across Britain as the UK Government’s detention policy comes under heightened scrutiny.

The UK is the only country in the EU which has no cap on how long people can be detained under immigration powers and detainees are calling for a 28-day limit.

The hunger strike is reported to have started at Harmondsworth IRC near Heathrow Airport last Sunday 8 March and quickly spread to various centres across the UK, including Dungavel.

In a statement, Graham Smith said: “The STUC and other Scottish civil society organisations we have contacted are very concerned at reports of large numbers of detainees refusing food at the Dungavel detention centre.

“It is unclear whether this is a response to conditions in the centre, or wider issues relating to the asylum system, or both. But what is clear is that the decision to refuse food reflects a level of desperation which must be investigated – the mark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable.

“The STUC, with the support of the Church of Scotland and the Conforti Institute has today requested permission for an urgent collective meeting with detainees and written today to this effect to the home secretary and the centre manager at Dungavel.”

Detainees have been documenting their experiences on the ‘Detained Voices‘ blog and have spoken of threats and intimidation from guards at the centres.

A demonstration in solidarity with the detainees took place at Dungavel on Sunday.

Earlier, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is deeply concerning that anyone should be on hunger strike at Dungavel.

“While asylum and immigration are reserved issues, we strongly urge the UK Government to ensure these matters are dealt with as humanely as possible.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Detention is only ever used as a last resort, and for the shortest time possible, after all attempts to encourage individuals to leave voluntarily have failed.”