Befriending charity that visits asylum detainees in Dungavel resumes visits

·3-min read
Pictures by Colin Mearns
Pictures by Colin Mearns

A charity that provides a befriending service to detained asylum seekers is gearing up to resume visits to Scotland’s only immigration removal centre.

Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDS) is a charity organisation that offers social, emotional, and practical support on a non-judgemental basis to asylum seekers who are detained indefinitely at Dungavel House in South Lanarkshire.

Volunteers meet in Glasgow a few nights a week and carpool up to Dungavel because the remote location cannot be accessed by public transport.

READ MORE: Home Office 'delayed support to asylum seeker in Glasgow for nine months'

The detention centre can hold up to 113 men and 12 women and is operated under contract to the Home Office by GEO Group UK.

Visits were restricted due to Covid but a relaxing of the rules means organisers from the SDS are keen to resume a full itinerary of outings and are looking for more volunteers to join them.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

Kate Alexander, director of SDS, said: “I think people really missed having a friendly face to come in and see them.”

The volunteers are not involved in the case work of the detainees which allows them to be a friendly, impartial ear for people who are very isolated, offering support and solidarity.

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One former detainee, Asim, who has since been able to resume his life with his daughter in Glasgow, said the service had really made a difference to him.

Asim was detained for more than six months and in spite of his usual good spirits could sometimes let the stress of indefinite detention get to him.

Kate said: “I would stress the indefinite detention.

“There’s no time limit on immigration detention so I think that’s something that makes the detention particularly traumatic for people.

“We see people deteriorate before our eyes.

“They might come in feeling quite hopeful about their situation and then it just goes on and on and on.

“We visit people for months on end and each time we visit we don’t know how long they’re going to be there.

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“They never know when it’s going to end or how it’s going to end, whether that will be by being forcibly removed from the country or by being released into the community.

“I think that’s the worst thing about detention and it’s the thing that affects people the most.

“Our visits, I think, help people to get some of that frustration out.”

Kate also wanted to stress that while the overarching picture of immigration detention is an “awful situation”, the visits themselves are more of a pleasant human interaction.

Glasgow Times:
Glasgow Times:

She said: “We don’t always talk about what’s happening in their case.

“We quite often talk about football, about our own lives, you know, what it’s like outside.

“Some people have lived in Scotland before so know about it.

“Others have never been to Scotland before, and this is their introduction to it.

“So, we can talk about what life is like. We talk about food a lot. People often miss the food and the life of their own communities.”

A lot of the people detained in Dungavel have been through the asylum system.

Others can be there for a range of immigration violations, but Kate explains these two reasons often interlace and overlap.

For more information on Scottish Detainee Visitors, click here.