HOME secretary Theresa May has been urged by the Scottish Government to investigate conditions at Dungavel following hunger strike protests.

Social justice secretary Alex Neil has written a letter to the UK minister expressing concern about the conditions at the South Lanarkshire Detention Centre, including the length of time of the hunger strike protest and the impact it could be having on the health of detainees.

He also said a lack of time limit on detention is causing "considerable distress and uncertainty", with some detainees being held over a year.

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Neil has also called on the Home Secretary to review a decision to force asylum seekers from Scotland to travel hundreds of miles to lodge appeals, which he described as a "backward step which will reduce access to the asylum system for people in highly vulnerable situations".

Last week the Sunday Herald revealed how the UK Government is pressing ahead with the plans - which means anyone appealing to stay in the UK has to meet face-to-face with immigration officials in Liverpool - despite facing legal challenges over the move.

In the letter to May, Neil wrote: "For the past two weeks, reports have been circulating about a hunger strike and protest involving from 25 up to 70 detainees at different times.

"I am deeply concerned about the length of time that the protest is reported to have been ongoing and the numbers of detainees involved, particularly so in the case of those who have been refusing food and the impact that this could have on their health."

Neil highlighted a recommendation in a recent report by Westminster's All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and Migration that there should be a time limit of 28 days on the length of time anyone can be held in immigration detention, and that "community-based resolutions" should be favoured over detention.

In the letter he said: "The Scottish Government supports these recommendations, and I am keen to learn what action the Home Office intends to take in response."

He added: "I would also be grateful for your reassurance that you will investigate the situation at Dungavel to ensure that detainees have access to the support they need, both for their personal health and wellbeing and to pursue their legal cases, and that you will give serious consideration to the issues raised by detainees."

A Home Office spokesman said: "A recent report on the centre (Dungavel) by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons described it as the best it has inspected - a safe and respectful place with excellent relationships between staff and detainees and one which was continuing to build on its strengths.

"The changes to the further submission process will apply only to failed asylum seekers whose claims have already been refused. They will significantly speed up decision-making, enabling us to grant protection more quickly to those who genuinely need it."