Now asylum children face 'even worse prison than Dungavel'

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THE Home Office came under increasing pressure to stop sending failed asylum seeker children to the Yarl's Wood removal centre yesterday.

The UK government ended child detention at the controversial Dungavel centre, in Lanarkshire, yesterday.

However, campaigners and MPs say Yarl's Wood, in Bedfordshire, is even worse despite having specialist family and child facilities and support services.

In March, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers, said there were "troubling" concerns over the welfare of youngsters at the centre, which holds about 300 people. It is also hundreds of miles away from the friends and lawyers of families detained in Scotland.

Sehar Shebaz, 25, and her eight-month-old daughter Wania, are currently held at the centre and are due to fly to Pakistan on Saturday. Friends say she fears retaliation in her home country after fleeing an abusive marriage to a Pakistani man in the UK.

Robina Qureshi, director of the charity Positive Actions In Housing, where Ms Shebaz volunteered, spoke to her by phone yesterday morning and said she was "upset and terrified".

"Yarl's Wood is an even worse prison than Dungavel," she said. "There's hundreds of people, with children screaming and fighting, fires and incidents of self harm. What kind of place is that for a baby girl?"

Precious Mhango, 10, whose mother Florence, 32, is currently appealing a decision to deport them to Malawi, has been to Yarl's Wood twice and called it "the worst place in my life".

Her godmother, Chris Mercer, 57, from Cranhill, said: "The first time she came back – I'd never seen a child look so shocked and … just vacant. She'd lost a significant amount of weight from being ill and not eating properly."

The Home Office is carrying out a review of where to place families after ending detention at Dungavel. Scots MPs Pete Wishart and Mark Lazarowicz both demanded they were not sent to Yarl's Wood.

Mr Lazarowicz said: "If ending children in detention at Dungavel simply means that children will be sent from Scotland to be detained at Yarl's Wood, and then deported, that is not progress but a cynical deception."

Mr Wishart said: "Yarl's Wood is probably worse than Dungavel. I've heard of hunger strikes and random acts of violence between inmates.

"It's also 250 to 280 miles away from Glasgow and we've no idea how they're transported. Are they handcuffed? This woman was reporting on fortnightly basis. What threat of abscondment did she pose?"

They would prefer to see the Family Return Project expanded.

The 125,000-a-year programme, which is funded by the Scottish Government and the UK Borders Agency, is one year into a three-year pilot, and provides five flats and houses in Glasgow for families who do not pose a risk of absconding.

A UK Border Agency spokeswoman said: "Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre is specially designed for families and has extensive child facilities and support services. The Glasgow alternative to detention project is a small, ongoing pilot that is not suitable, or available, for all families."