A senior Church of Scotland official has welcomed the fact that the British government has listened to its concerns about the Dungavel detention centre for refused asylum seekers, but churches as a whole remain deeply disturbed by the official treatment of those seeking refuge in the UK.
The government proposed last week that families of what it calls "failed asylum seekers" (that is, those who have been refused leave to remain, some of whom may have perfectly legitimate claims nonetheless) could be moved to city centre flats instead of being kept at Dungavel detention centre.
Rev Ian Galloway, convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council, pointed out that alternative measures like this would use far less of the taxpayers’ money. He and others hope the lesson can be learned much more widely.
“As a system, Dungavel is very expensive to run," Mr Galloway explained. “The pilot scheme restores some of the human rights to failed asylum seekers while also being much more cost-effective.”
Her also said the interim measure of moving refused asylum seekers down to English detention centres should end, remarking: “It is a despicable practice – it is deeply distressing for those involved, and cuts them off from any existing support network, making them feel further isolated.
Mt Galloway pointed out that it is always children who suffer most. “Children do not understand where they are, or what is going to happen to them. We strongly believe that the interests of children should always be prioritised over the interests of immigration policy."
“By permitting this to happen, the government is denying to children core rights accorded them under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and lowering the reputation of the UK internationally," said the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) official, adding: “I sincerely hope they will continue to pursue options which do not involve lengthy periods of imprisonment.”
“But following Jim Murphy’s announcement, there must be action. And we want to be involved in that action.”
The remarks came ahead of the Kirk General Assembly Moderator's visit to Dungavel on Monday 3 November 2008.
“The Kirk has always been regarded as being a place of support and safety for the vulnerable in society," Mr Galloway said. “I know of church members who stood as surety for a family of [refused] asylum seekers, and they fulfilled their bail conditions without fail.”