Scotland leads way as 'inhumane' asylum system is overhauled
A UK-WIDE review aimed at ending the controversial practice of detaining children at immigration centres was launched in Scotland yesterday.
• Precious Mhango and her mother Florence in their flat in Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry
UK immigration minister Damian Green held the first public meeting with refugee organisations, local authorities and children's charities to discuss views on alternatives to detaining children.
Child detention at the Dungavel removal centre in Lanarkshire ended last month following a Lib Dem manifesto commitment to end the practice.
But asylum-seeking families, including those from north of the Border, continue to be transferred to Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire.
Critics say this merely moves the problem elsewhere, isolating asylum seekers from Scotland from their support networks.
The issue of the trauma caused to children being incarcerated in detention centres has been highlighted by the case of ten-year-old asylum seeker Precious Mhango from Cranhill in Glasgow, who with her mother, Florence, has been detained in Dungavel and Yarl's Wood.
The pair were taken off a flight to Malawi in November after their lawyers applied for a judicial review of their case. They are to submit an appeal tomorrow for the mother and daughter to remain in Scotland, after a High Court judge ruled last week the decision to deport them back to Malawi was "legitimate".
Mr Green said he wanted to find ways of keeping in contact with failed asylum seekers to ensure they did not "go underground".
"I think the problem is trying to develop a system that can distinguish quickly, efficiently and fairly between genuine refugees and those who are just using the system to come here as economic migrants," he said. "Regrettably, a lot of people do abuse the system like that."
Mr Green added: "I agree with those who say we shouldn't lock up children. It will stop as soon as we can make it stop which will hopefully be in the next few months."
The minister said the review would look at a range of measures, including electronic tagging, as an alternative to holding families at removal centres.
John Wilkes, chief executive of Scottish Refugee Council, said: "Damian Green has said he would like more people whose claim for asylum has been refused to leave voluntarily, but this will only happen if there is trust in our asylum system; if people believe they are being listened to, and if they have full and proper legal representation throughout.
SNP Glasgow MSP Anne McLaughlin, who has been campaigning for the Mhangos, said: "There is no point in ditching one inhumane system for another, or transferring the problem from a Scottish detention centre to an English detention centre. Remember, these people are not criminals. They are vulnerable human beings often fleeing persecution."
Muriel Pearson, minister at Cranhill Parish church in Glasgow, and a member of the Cranhill Detention Support group, said: "The detention of families with children who have lost their appeals is completely unnecessary."
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