The cage in the hills

Richard Lutz is detained on his way down the River Ayr in Scotland

The sand martins are flitting up and down the River Ayr as it curves towards the sea. They are feeding in the drowsy warmth of the sun. A heron, with its great big prehistoric head, glides overhead. Swallows twist and turn-maybe they’re swifts. I always mix them up.

The meadowsweet bushes are just starting to fade. But smother the remaining blooms over your nose and you take in the undefinably delicious fragrance. These white wild plants, which line the riverbank and the summer Ayrshire roads, couldn’t be called anything else.

We stop and look north, due north, past the swerving river and past Muirkirk to a forbidding roll of sombre hills. Maps are checked. There’s Middlefield Law, there’s Starpet Rig, there’s the Head of Greenock Water and Hawkwood Hill and Black Loch Moss.

Someone points on the map to a group of buildings simply called ‘detention centre’. We can’t make it out, our view blocked by Dungavel Hill.

Later, a quick search identifies the place as Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre. About 250 refugees and asylum seekers are behind wire and steel awaiting deportation…to who knows where.

Dungavel Detention Centre

The simple words on the map – detention centre – become real. It was used to imprison little kids until 2010.

One mother with four children said she spent more than a year inside Dungavel in a single room. It’s now run by an American firm called Geo and it maintains that no children are housed anymore at Dungavel.

But still, amid the silent hills, lies a small village of unnamed, unhappy, frightened, dispossessed people who came to Britain for……what? Security? Jobs? A future for their families? A detention camp?

I call the Scottish Refugee Council for more information. It’s backed many protests outside this prison, formerly a hunting lodge for the landed gentry, about inhumane conditions inside. It tells me  “…the UK has a shockingly poor record on detaining people for immigration purposes.”

And there in the horizon, past the River Ayr tucked under the folds of quiet hills, is living proof of what this pressure group is so angry about.

Inside, hundreds of lives are stopped dead in their tracks as they headed for freedom. This is Britain for them this summer.

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