Scotland

Child refugees 'still being held' at Dungavel centre

Dungavel House sign
Image caption The Nine uncovered 21 cases where children were detained

Children are still being detained at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre almost a decade after the practice was banned.

At least 21 under-18s were held there between 2010 and 2018, according to figures obtained by BBC Scotland's The Nine.

One spent almost three months at the South Lanarkshire facility.

Dungavel houses asylum seekers and migrants who are being removed from the country.

Local MSP Linda Fabiani told The Nine that alternatives to detention should be the norm.

Image caption MSP Linda Fabiani wants alternatives to detention to be considered

"There have been families who have agreed to report to their local police station every week, while their appeal is going ahead," she said.

"That's not onerous for people and the majority of those who are seeking asylum do so lawfully and they do so with a wish to make their homes here and they comply with the regulations.

"It's very seldom that people flee."

Image caption Solicitor Zyra Rana Person says the detention of children is illegal

Zyra Rana Person, a solicitor who regularly deals with asylum cases, added: "Detaining children is illegal, since 2010, and children should not be getting detained."

Some of the young people have been held at Dungavel, which is near Strathaven, and then moved to immigration centres in England.

Others were transferred there after being detained elsewhere in the UK.

Image caption Dungavel House is said to be unsuitable for children

The Home Office announced in May 2010 that under-18s would no longer be held at Dungavel, with then Home Secretary Damian Green saying he was "committed to ending the detention of all children for immigration purposes".

In 2010, the story of a 10-year-old Malawian girl and her mother had provoked criticism.

Florence and Precious Mhango were at the centre of a campaign to be allowed to stay in the UK.

Precious and her mother were both held at Dungavel.

Since 2010, the number of children held at detention centres across the UK has fallen by around 90%.

Between June 2010 and January 2014, only two children were held at Dungavel, according to official statistics.

Official figures

However, a Freedom of Information request obtained by the BBC reveals that between 2014 and 2018, 19 young people were held there.

At least five of them were aged 16 or younger.

In one case, a child was detained at Dungavel for 80 days. The Home Office told the BBC that it believed they were an adult at the time they were detained.

However, in at least one other instance a child was held for three days with the knowledge of the Home Office.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We ended the routine detention of children for immigration purposes in 2010, and fundamentally changed the system to ensure that the welfare of the child is at the heart of every decision we make.

"However, we will not operate a system open to abuse and must avoid a situation where legitimate immigration control can be undermined by someone simply claiming to be a child."

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