Jul 05, 2005

Voices Across Barriers – Tuesday July 5

Tuesday was the day for the demonstration at Dungavel refugee detention centre which was handy for all those of us who had found the prospect of going to Faslane at 4am the previous morning too much to bear, but now needed to salve our consciences.
The Dungavel coaches went at the far more civilised time of 10.30am and Dungavel was considerably nearer than Faslane, although it still felt pretty distant. Dungavel lies in a place far from any town or even village and its remoteness must serve to intensify the desolation of refugees brought there.
It was frightening enough being out that far with so many police as a protester, but what asylum seekers fleeing state persecution must feel is not hard to imagine.
Dungavel is Scotland’s only refugee detention centre and includes children amongst its detainees. There have been several suicides and attempted suicides there. Because of the protest all the detainees had been sent away for the week and the place repopulated, several times over, by police. A number of times on the winding country roads our coach was stopped by police and then allowed to pass, there were also unpeopled “road closed” signs along the way, but the coach driver, after a bit of egging on, drove round them.
Walking up to the centre our bags were searched and an MSP arrested for refusing to allow hers to be. The centre was up on a hill surrounded by high fences, razor wire and double gates. In the forecourt flanked by police on horseback, hundreds of protestors gathered. Officers with dogs also roamed the woods around the demonstration. One of the most incongruous sights I have seen was toddlers picnicking at the feet of police in riot gear.
The demonstrators were varied; former detainees, usual activist types (including a punk in a kilt) and local families. There was a small stage where, among others, a former detainee of Dungavel, an NUJ member, a Portuguese MP and Haidi Giuliani spoke. Many speeches were about the political situation for refugees, the NUJ representative spoke about the great pressure put upon journalists by their editors to write negatively about asylum seekers and Haidi simply appealed to basic humanity when she said “Every mother gives birth to her children for joy and happiness, not to be locked in this sort of centre. I believe each mother should stand up and denounce this terrible abuse.”
Because of people being stopped and searched it felt as though the demonstration had no real beginning or end, demonstrators were still coming up the hill as the rally ended. The return journey to Edinburgh was considerably quicker than the one there.


Anna Hoyles

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