CHURCH OF SCOTLAND ministers who have been listening to detainees in an immigration removal centre, reported their stories as “harrowing”.

The Rev Bryan Kerr was part of a delegation which recently visited the facility in a rural location near Strathaven in South Lanarkshire with the immediate past Moderator of the General Assembly, the Very Rev Sally Foster-Fulton. He described Dungavel House as a “grim and horrible” place, saying that detainees are frightened and fearful for their futures because they have no idea what will happen to them after they are deported from the UK.

Mr Kerr, minister of Greyfriars Parish Church in Lanark, spoke out at the General Assembly, which passed a series of ‘deliverances’ ( publicly  ecpressed opinions or decisions) aimed at protecting asylum seekers and refugees. The Church issued a fresh call for the establishment of safe and legal routes to the UK, as they believe no one willingly crosses dangerous seas and pays money to human traffickers.

The current UK Government policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda was described as “inhumane” and political leaders and media institutions were urged to avoid the use of dehumanising and hostile language. Kerr said: “I didn’t know much about Dungavel until I walked through the gates. We would have much rather been on the other side of the fence being lifted for saying ‘not in our name’. But going in gave us the opportunity to speak with staff who are trying their best to care for those being detained and in their care. Staff whom we saw going above and beyond, trying to make that place as supportive as possible with video calls home and to lawyers.”

He said a different picture began to emerge when the delegation met detainees and heard the story of their lives. “It is a grim and horrible place to be”, said the minister. “People are frightened and sad, not understanding where they might be in a few days time.” The delegation worshipped, read scripture and prayed with the detainees. “We got to know some of them, just a little bit, and I do not think there were any of us there during that visit that did not cry. It was an awful place to be and yet at the same time, it was the place that we needed to be, to call it out and ‘say no more’ to the government and policy makers.”

Dungavel House is managed by the UK Home Officeand and has 125 detainee places to accommodate both male and females.

The Rev Kerr said the detainees whom the delegation met appreciated the visit. “Getting to know people, hearing their stories and understanding their fear and pain is so important. Journeying alongside them as brothers and sisters whom we share a common bond. We have to remember that there are staff there working in a system that they cannot change either. We did not see staff or anyone using language that we would have found painful but that was the experience of those who were there.”

* Source: Church of Scotland