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Dungavel, 1987

Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre is an immigration detention facility in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, near the town of Strathaven that is also known as Dungavel Castle or Dungavel House. It is operated by the American private prison firm GEO Group, under contract with the law-enforcement command Border Force for its detention of immigrants for the Home Office. It is the only such facility in Scotland.

The announced closure of Dungavel in September 2016[1] was rescinded in February 2017, with a planned replacement cancelled and Dungavel to remain open.[2]


Originally a 19th-century hunting lodge and summer retreat of the Dukes of Hamilton linked to their then main house at Hamilton Palace, it was the home of the 13th Duke from 1919 following the demolition of the palace due to subsidence, arising from mining in the area.

Dungavel was the planned destination for Rudolf Hess's doomed 1941 peace mission, to seek the intercession of the 14th Duke of Hamilton with Churchill to try to end the war between Britain and Germany. Dungavel was sold on to the National Coal Board in 1947. It was then acquired by the government and turned into an open prison.

In 1979 Agnes Curran became the governor of Dungavel prison. She was the first female prison governor of a prison for men in Britain. Curran was surprised to be appointed and she had to deal with the attitudes taken by male staff and prisoners to a woman governor. She was given an MBE in 1984.[3][4]

In 2001 its role changed and it is used for holding asylum seekers whose applications have been refused prior to their removal. It however, remains the final resting place for the thirteenth Duke of Hamilton, a naval officer whose grave lies within the close policies of the castle, once adorned with a ship's anchor.

Current useEdit

Dungavel, 2006

Dungavel opened as an immigrant detention centre in 2001.[5] Under the management of operator GEO Group the facility was expanded in 2013 to 249 detainees, men and women, in "four main residential units".[6] This is GEO Group's only prison in the United Kingdom.

Dungavel has been the scene of several protests on the basis that babies and young children have been held there prior to deportation, in some cases for over a year. The Kurdish Ay family, consisting of Yurdugal Ay and her four children aged 7 to 14, were held in Dungavel in a single room for 13 months before eventually gaining asylum in Germany. In 2003 lawyer Aamer Anwar led a campaign over the detention of the Ays. Over the years Aamer Anwar has continued to call for Dungavel to be shut down, describing it as inhumane and barbaric as well as a 'scar on the face of Scotland.' In January 2012 the Home Office agreed to pay the four Ay children a 6-figure settlement, following a civil action against the UK government for the ordeal of their time in detention.[7]

In 2004 the Children's Commissioner for Scotland described the facility as "morally upsetting" and threatened to report the UK and Scottish Governments to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. However, former Home Secretary David Blunkett said that "Detention, while regrettable, is an essential part of effective immigration control - to affect removal, establish identity or prevent absconding. Where it is necessary to detain individuals with children, we believe it is better that the children remain with their parents rather than split up the family".[8]

Entrance sign of the Dungavel Detention Centre

The Scottish Government has no direct authority over Dungavel, as asylum and immigration are matters reserved to the UK Parliament. But Scottish officials continued to press for changes at the prison using their authority over child welfare matters. After the 2010 UK General election, the UK Coalition government announced it would end the detention of children under 18 at Dungavel. First reporting suggested that this change would be "taking the problem off Scottish soil", but that the children would only be transferred to Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire,[9] privately operated by Serco, with its own history of controversy, detentions of longer than a year, and failures in its treatment of children.[10]

Public criticismEdit

Protests against Dungavel Detention Centre.

Dungavel has faced criticism from some human rights organisations due to breaches of the human rights.[11][12] The British media is also blamed for failing to cover hunger strikes in the detention centre in 2015.[13] Same year Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found that vulnerable individuals were being detained in contravention of rules designed to protect vulnerable people from detention.[14][15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Dungavel immigration detention centre to close". BBC News. 8 September 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  2. ^ "Dungavel House immigration removal centre to stay open". BBC News. 3 February 2017. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  3. ^ Anne Worrall, ‘Curran , Agnes (1920–2005)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2009; online edn, Jan 2011 accessed 23 July 2017
  4. ^ "Agnes Curran First woman governor of an all-male British prison". HeraldScotland. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  5. ^ "Dungavel immigration detention centre to close". BBC News. 8 September 2016. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  6. ^ "Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre". GEO Group. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  7. ^ "Child asylum seekers win compensation for 13-month detention". The Guardian. 6 January 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2012.
  8. ^ "Dungavel Detention Centre 12 July 2004". House of Commons Debate archive. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  9. ^ "Child detention to end at Dungavel removal centre". BBC News. 19 May 2010. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  10. ^ McVeigh, Karen (16 February 2010). "Yarl's Wood children face 'extreme distress', report reveals". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  11. ^ O'Hare, Liam. "MSP slams "shameful" Dungavel detention centre following new revelations". Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  12. ^ "Unlocked comes to Scotland's Dungavel". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  13. ^ "Cold shoulder: Hunger strikes spread as UK migrants' demands unmet LIVE UPDATES". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  14. ^ O'Hare, Liam. "Prisons inspector criticises Dungavel Detention Centre for treatment of rape and torture victims". Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  15. ^ Leask, David. "Watchdog: People are held for "unreasonably long" periods at Dungavel". Retrieved 14 August 2015.

External linksEdit