This blog was written by Bill MacKeith, joint organiser of the Campaign to Close Campsfield, for Unlocking Detention. Photos: Campaign to Close Campsfield
On 25 November 1993, two white vans arrived at Campsfield main gates, 6 miles north of Oxford. They brought the first detainees to the new Campsfield detention centre from Harmondsworth near Heathrow. Since then some 30,000 people have been locked up here without time limit, without charge, or proper legal representation in a place run for profit (currently by MITIE). And detainees and their supporters have insisted, month by month, year by year, that it be closed, along with all other detention centres, including some 290 monthly demonstrations.
The 24th anniversary demonstration at Campsfield this year was special for the campaign to radically challenge immigration detention in the UK: both Oxford’s MPs attended and spoke.
The member of parliament for the constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon that includes Campsfield detention centre, Layla Moran, spoke. As did Oxford East MP, Anneliese Dodds, who sits on the opposition front bench. We are fortunate in that our two local MPs agree that immigration detention needs to be radically challenged.
Layla Moran said:
The existence of Campsfield House is a scar on our local community and society at large. It is my firm belief that it, along with most of the UK’s detention estate, should be closed.
Anneliese Dodds said:
I am strongly opposed to the current excessive use of immigration detention. It puts Britain to shame. It is unfair, it doesn’t work and it is cruel. Immigration detention causes real distress and anxiety for individuals and families and I am clear that indefinite detention of people in the asylum and immigration system must end. This commitment was in the Manifesto I stood on in the last general election.
Demonstrators heard from Jawad, who has spent 9 months in four different detention centres, including Campsfield:
I have suffered 9 months in detention asking for my UN treaty rights … I have a message for all the people at Campsfield today. Be patient and God will listen to everyone. This will soon be stopped as we are all working on it.
Also speaking was Helen Brewer, one of 15 people from End Deportations, Plane Stupid and Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants who last March 28th successfully stopped a mass deportation flight to Nigeria and Ghana. The Crown Prosecution Service has charged them with a Terrorism related offence under the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990. Represented by Michael Mansfield QC, they appeared in Chelmsford Crown Court on the 4th of September, pleading Not Guilty. Their trial is listed for 4-6 weeks from 5th March 2018 in Chelmsford Crown Court.
Phillis, vice chair of South Yorkshire Migrant and Asylum Action Group, addressed the Barbed Wire Britain gathering at nearby Kidlington after the demo. He recounted the mass protest by detainees inside Campsfield on 7 August 2007, which he led; on that day 26 people took direct action to retrieve what was theirs by right, their freedom, and escaped.
Neo, an Oxford campaigner for the rights of homeless people, and singer songwriter Robb Johnson inspired and moved the demonstrators with their songs.