By Angela Paton
Mercy Ikolo is 32 years old and fled Cameroon to seek refuge in Ireland two years ago, where her 14-month old Percilez was born. Mercy made the mistake of visiting Scotland, being stopped at the port of Stranraer and taken to Dungavel Detention Centre on 17 August.
Mercy and her daughter were recently bailed on a £100 bond to stay with socialist MSP Rosie Kane and her two daughers in their small two-bedroom flat in Govanhill, Glasgow until the Home Office decides on her application around 4 November.
Rosie Kane said, "The imprisonment of the Ikolo family is staggering. It is indescribably cruel and nothing but child abuse. To lock up a woman simply because she is from another country is just racist."
Mercy was held in Dungavel Detention Centre, a former prison, run by American security firm Premier Prisons, near Strathaven, Lanarkshire - tucked away in the Scottish countryside.
The recent Inspectorate of Education follow up report found that 72 men, 14 women and 62 family members (18 children) are currently held in Dungavel. The original report had identified serious shortfalls in the educational facilities, and while the follow up report mentions improvements, they suggested that maximum time that a child should have only this support is two weeks.
The HM Inspectorate of Prisons in England and Wales also found that the "positive development of children was compromised by the secure nature of the facility".
There is no on-site immigration advisory service, only 31% of detainees who knew how to access legal representation, none knew how to change their representation, and phonecards were found to be in such short supply that people can't even ring anyone for advice.
Visitors are not allowed to bring in sweets for children and children need to ask permission to go outside between 3pm and 5pm.
Women have to ask the staff for contracpetives and sanitary products. Treating women in this way is barbaric, completely strips them of their dignity and is a complete abuse of human rights. Mothers aren't allowed to feed their children solid food in their rooms because apparently it violates health and safety policy. Fatima Muse fell foul of these degrading, inhuman rules by smuggling weetabix into her room for her two children and was "fined" her weekly allowance of £3.50.
Even the United Nations has had something to say about the Government's appalling treatment of the children of asylum seekers, noting that detention was "incompatible" with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK had signed up to in 1991.
But what is the answer from the "powers that be"? The Scottish Executive is passing the buck to the Home Office, even although the Scottish Parliament has powers relating to the education and welfare of children in Scotland, saying "These reports are a matter for the Home Office to respond to. Education and welfare of people in removal centres are a matter for the Home Office".
Immigration Minister, Beverley Hughes has piped up however... "It has been suggested that Dungavel is some kind of Scottish Guatanamo Bay. This is an outrageous suggestion ... everyone held at Dungavel is treated with dignity and respect". Tell that to the women who have to ask for tampax, the children not allowed to play outside and the mothers that aren't allowed to feed their children!
The Scottish Trades Union Congress called a demonstration on 6 September to call for the shutting down of Dungavel. Over 1,000 people demonstrated. Dungavel should be closed immediately and people released - holding people, including children for commiting no crime, save wanting to seek help, is inhumane and outrageous.