FINANCE Secretary Kate Forbes faced questioning over what Scotland is doing about conditions at the Dungavel immigration detention centre – despite the facility being run by the UK Government.

With immigration a matter reserved to Westminster, the Home Office and Border Force are in charge of the facility, while day-to-day operations are a matter for US-based private prison company GEO Group.

It recently emerged that asylum seekers arriving in England via the Channel crossing have been transported all the way to the South Lanarkshire facility by bus for processing. Previously arrivals, who are often physically and mentally distressed from their journey, were taken to short-term accommodation close to where they came ashore.

The Scottish Greens have said the practice is an example of why immigration powers should be devolved to Scotland, with party spokesperson Ross Greer saying: "The Home Office has shown time and again that it cannot be trusted to ensure the welfare of refugees. It has a long and shameful record of institutional malice and cruelty.”

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The Home Office has defended its activities, with a spokesperson saying to The Guardian this week: “The British public have had enough of seeing people die in the Channel while ruthless criminal gangs profit from their misery and our new plan for immigration will fix the broken system which encourages migrants to make this lethal journey. People should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach – rather than making dangerous journeys to the UK.

“That is why we will have rules in place to make asylum claims inadmissible where people have travelled through or have a connection to safe countries.”

The SNP have also long called for immigration to be made a devolved power, and have an extensive history of speaking out against the Dungavel centre since it became a location for the holding of asylum seekers in 2001.

Conditions in Dungavel have often made headlines. Just this month, a report revealed that vulnerable women were being held there alongside “several men with a history of sexual violence”.

Last year, Scottish lawyer Aamer Anwar called on the Home Secretary to shut down the facility when it emerged there had been a Covid-19 outbreak.

“One can only imagine the fear of the spread of Covid among both detainees and staff, in what is essentially a prison run for profit.

“It is a scar on the map of Scotland that should have been pulled down a long time ago,” he said.

Despite these calls and concerns, Westminster has control over Dungavel.

The National:

On Sky News on Friday, during a discussion on the tragic 27 deaths of people crossing the Channel to get to the UK, the presenter asked Forbes (above): “A nine-hour bus ride to Scotland after you’ve had to go through that awful journey across the Channel is not ideal but it is safe. That said the facility where they’re being taken in Scotland has been criticised for the conditions. So what’s Scotland doing about that?”

Forbes appeared surprised by the line of questioning, given her government has no power over the institution despite it being located in Scotland.

“Absolutely and can I just be clear that Scottish politicians have criticised it because it’s a Home Office facility,” she pointed out.

“So we have long criticised the fact that the UK Government is processing asylum seekers and refugees in hostile ways ... that the facilities available are not fit for purpose.

“You will find my party has been very consistent that although these facilities are based in Scotland they are not managed by Scotland. We do not have the powers over immigration but we’ve long called for the facilities to be upgraded and refugees to be treated in a more compassionate fashion.”

Forbes also faced questions on what Scotland is doing to help asylum seekers, following criticism from Priti Patel.

“Glasgow is right now a key location when it comes to asylum seekers, but right now obviously it’s a UK Government power,” she explained. “But where we can play a role, Scotland is.

“The Scottish Government is making sure that there is housing available, that there is healthcare available … I think the bottom line for me though is we are seeing reports on the front pages of newspapers of mothers and babies drowning in the Channel because the system is not working. And we only see a few stories that make it onto the newspapers, most of them don’t.”