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Last Updated:  Friday, 14 March, 2003, 11:10 GMT
Asylum children policy 'immoral'
Michael Connarty
Michael Connarty: Questions in Commons
The Home Office is to come under pressure to end the detention of asylum seekers' children at a former jail in Scotland.

Anger is growing at the policy of holding children for months with their parents in Dungavel detention centre near Strathaven, Lanarkshire, before the families are deported.

Roman Catholic Bishops in Scotland are to mount a campaign to end what they have described as a "disgrace".

The Labour MP for Falkirk East, Michael Connarty, has now pledged to raise a motion in the House of Commons and seek answers from the Home Office.

They can't amend it that much to make it anything other than a prison
Michael Connarty

"I hope that all the other churches will follow up the initiative of the bishops' conference and condemn this and bring the greatest pressure possible to bear to have this 'family unit' closed."

In a statement, the Home Office said: "Any evidence of families being detained for inordinate lengths of time will be looked at, however families don't have to stay in these conditions in detention if they had chosen to leave the country."

Dungavel was opened as a detention centre for asylum seekers in September 2001.

About a quarter of the 80 people currently detained there are thought to be children.

Mr Connarty said that MPs had opposed a section of the Asylum Bill that related to Scotland.

'Ignored opposition'

"We were told that these plans for detaining children, denying them access to mainstream education, would not be put in place until the Scottish Executive had been consulted," he said.

"I don't know if they have consulted the Scottish Executive, but I would be shocked if Cathy Jamieson, the children's minister, approved these facilities and it sounds to me like the Home Office have just gone ahead and done it regardless so that's got to be pursued very strongly."

Mr Connarty referred to Dungavel being called a "family unit".

Asylum seeker with child (deliberately blurred)
Children are detained as a "last resort"

"It's like saying during the Boer War that the camps for the Boers were in fact not concentration camps."

The MP has just returned from the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and believes the matter could be raised under the European Convention of Human Rights.

"This is really saying, 'these are non-people, they don't exist as humans because they are in the process of being removed'.

"We predicted that this would not be five or six days, this would be a long process because British law allows people, particularly those with children, to appeal and that's correct."

'Political input' question

Mr Connarty said he had visited Dungavel when it was a prison and added: "They can't amend it that much to make it anything other than a prison."

He has raised the issue with Cathy Peattie MSP, vice-chairman of the Scottish Parliament's education committee, who "did not understand" how children could be denied mainstream education.

Families are detained only in dedicated family accommodation with appropriate facilities
Home Office

His early day motion will ask if the Home Office has disregarded the Scottish Executive or if the executive had, in fact, approved the policy through an official without any political contribution.

Mr Connarty also plans to press the Scottish Secretary, Helen Liddell, for answers.

The Home Office statement also said: "Although regrettable, it is sometimes necessary to detain families with children.

"Families are detained only in dedicated family accommodation with appropriate facilities.

"Children are detained in order to keep them with their family and unaccompanied children are never detained."





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