NEW figures have revealed a substantial number of detainees at Dungavel detention centre were monitored on suicide watch last year, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

Data obtained by the Sunday Herald under the Freedom of Information Act show that in one of 2017's most serious months, 20 out of 145 detainees were monitored for being at risk of self-harm.

Over the eight-month period between January and August, there was an average of 130 detainees in Dungavel each month and nine of those were on suicide watch. Dungavel, near Strathaven, is the only centre of its kind in Scotland but one of nine located across the UK.

Stuart McDonald MP, the SNP’s spokesperson on immigration, asylum and border control, described the UK Government’s detention policy as an “absolute disgrace”.

“These figures are a tragedy – but they are not surprising,” said the MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East.

“Study after study from across the globe has shown that immigration detention can have long-lasting negative impacts on a person’s mental health.

“That is especially so in the case of vulnerable people, as so many are in these detention centres. The UK Government knows this full well – because the review it commissioned from Stephen Shaw told them so, more than two years ago.

“Against that background, it is an absolute disgrace that the Home Office continues with mass detention – including of vulnerable people – in private immigration prisons without limit of time and with no other justification than administrative convenience.

“Its approach to detaining torture survivors has already been found illegal by the courts. The whole system is a stain on our democracy and an affront to the rule of law.”

The figures for people on suicide watch in Dungavel correspond with the proportion of people being monitored across all UK detention centres.

In August 2017, 210 people were being monitored under the Home Office’s Assessment Care in Detention Teamwork (ACDT) framework. This represents almost 10 per cent of the total detainee population.

The government claims that asylum seekers and other migrants are held in detention centres in order to establish their identities or facilitate their deportation.

“Detention should be a matter of absolute last resort, not routine, and it should be subject to strict time limits and judicial oversight,” McDonald continued.

“The complacency around this issue displayed by the Immigration Minister and Home Secretary is totally unacceptable.”

McDonald added that he will be soon be requesting that the Home Office give him access to visit detainees in Dungavel.

The MP, who sits on Westminster’s influential Home Affairs Select Committee, recently visited Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedford where detainees staged a hunger strike in protest at their conditions.

Britain is the only country in the EU that has failed to enforce a time limit for how long detainees can be held. It is not uncommon for people to be detained for over a year.

Last year, the Home Office abandoned plans to replace Dungavel with a short-term holding facility near Glasgow Airport. It was decided that it would remain open after Renfrewshire Council rejected the planning application for the new facility.

The figures on Dungavel come after it was revealed earlier this week that more than one person a day needs medical treatment for self-harming across the UK detention estate.

The revelations add to growing concern about the mental health of people held in immigration detention.

Last year saw the highest number of deaths in detainees on record. Eleven people died in total, including a Chinese man being held in Dungavel.

According to one regular visitor to Dungavel, the “oppressive” nature of detention has a detrimental effect on the mental health of detainees.

“I’ve had a tour of the centre and on the tour, I found it quite an oppressive place. A lot of the communal areas lack natural light and felt quite institutional,” said Kate Alexander, the director of Scottish Detainee Visitors.

“As people who visit those held in detention, you really see the impact that it has on people’s mental health.

“Detainees are living under a situation where they fear one day they’ll be removed to a country they don’t want to go to. At the same time, they fear they could be in detention for weeks, months and possibly years.

“You see people who go in as healthy individuals deteriorate the longer they stay there.

“People struggle with their mental health. There have been quite a few questions about the quality of healthcare in detention. People we speak to aren't depressed. Paracetamol is offered for everything.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “All incidents of self harm are treated very seriously and every step is taken to prevent it. Staff at all centres are trained to identify those at risk of self harm so that action can be taken to minimise the risk.

“The provision of 24-hour, seven-days-a-week healthcare in all immigration removal centres ensures that individuals held there have ready access to medical professionals and levels of primary care.

“Following the Stephen Shaw review into the welfare in detention of vulnerable people, the Government launched its Mental Health Action Plan, which implements a programme of action on prevention and provision to improve the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions in detainees.”


Lord Apetsi knows the grim reality of detention centres better than most. He’s spent time in the majority of them.

“When I went into detention I didn’t even know about mental health,” the father-of-two told the Sunday Herald. “But while I was in detention I was diagnosed with mental health problems. I came out a broken man.”

The 47-year-old Strathclyde University student spent two years in detention, including over six months in Dungavel, in 2006. He was more recently detained in 2016 and it took a defiant ‘Save Lord’ campaign by the National Union of Students to help grant him a reprieve.

“The entire system is designed to break you down so you can give up. I think there are deliberate psychological structures within the immigration detention system to break you down. I’ve seen a lot of people giving up in detention centres, they are driven mad by the conditions. I’ve seen four people commit suicide while I’ve been in detention centres. It happens a lot.”

Apetsi says there is little to do while being held in detention and the days are long, spent talking to other detainees or occasionally attending meetings with lawyers.

“You are woken in the morning by the guards and you can go and get breakfast. The food is rubbish mostly,” he explains.

“Everyone will come and greet each other and say we’re lucky to have survived the night.

“If you have an immigration appointment you go to that. If not you sit around and talk. It’s a very long day.”

The days may be long but it’s the nights which are longest. The detainees lie in fear of being dragged out of their beds and deported. The rattle of the guards' keys come as a constant reminder of the precariousness of their situation.

“The night is the scariest part, it is at night that they come to force people out. Once you are asked to enter your room, you have a pain, a worry, an anxiety.

“From time to time, you hear the officers shaking their keys, checking their locks, and you wonder, 'are they coming for me?', until they pass.

“If they don’t come for you, you’ll be in your cell hearing someone else being forced out – crying, screaming and shouting.

“You are scared. You don’t know what’s going to happen – you can’t even sleep.”

Apesti is currently appealing for leave to remain in Scotland, where he is hoping to complete his postgraduate studies in law. However, he lives with the constant dread that one day he may be returned to the “hell” of detention.

“The fear is always there. It’s a horrible place to be," he says. “Only human beings have rights. We are treated as worse than humans. Animals who are in the zoo are treated better than us.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in our report, you can contact The Samaritans for guidance and advice by telephoning 116 123. All calls are free.