After Campsfield

Campsfield | Unlocked19

As more detention centres are closed, visitors’ groups shift their focus to what’s next. Clara Della Croce, from Asylum Welcome, explains to Unlocking Detention what Asylum Welcome did after the closure of Campsfield immigration detention in Oxfordshire.

On Friday, 9th November 2018, Asylum Welcome was informed that the Home Office had decided to close Campsfield House in May 2019. Throughout 25 years Asylum Welcome visitors had been in Campsfield House, Immigration Removal Centre, near Oxford, sometimes every day of the week.

These detainees were incarcerated under an unfair and hostile detention system and many of us had been campaigning for the end of immigration detention. We were elated but, also somewhat confused. The Home Office statement read that this closure was part of an ongoing strategy to reduce detention numbers by 40%. Questions began to dawn upon us:  where were Campsfield detainees going to go? Many were so vulnerable; we knew some of their stories. Is this the only detention centre to be closed? We asked. Asylum Welcome staff, and volunteers to Campsfield House, all had similar feelings of incredulity and joy accompanied by a strong concern for the welfare of the detainees.

The wider Oxford community, who had campaigned for the closure of Campsfield and the end of all immigration detention, saw this as a moment for celebration. In contrast, the detainees themselves were saying that whilst being in Campsfield was depressing and stressful, their experience of other detention centres, where the regime was much stricter, was even worse.  By mid-December 2018, Campsfield was empty and the remaining few detainees were transferred to Brook House or Harmsworth Immigration Removal Centres.  

Asylum Welcome’s staff and volunteers are very keen to build upon their long experience supporting detainees in Campsfield: overstayers, refused asylum seekers, and those with past convictions who had finished their criminal sentence and had been transferred to immigration detention.  We are united in the view that our work in this field should not end with the closure of Campsfield – there are ongoing humanitarian needs that we are well-placed to address.

Asylum Welcome contacted HMP Huntercombe, and our offer to provide a visiting service to prisoners was warmly welcomed. Huntercombe is a category C prison in Oxfordshire, populated solely by 480 foreign nationals; not a single inmate there is British.  After several months setting up the project structures, we are now taking our first steps as visitors within the prison. In offering a service to Huntercombe prisoners there are four concerns that we believe we can help to address: isolation, communication, wellbeing and advocacy.


Whilst some prisoners had built their lives in the UK prior to offending and therefore have family in the country, others, including many with an asylum background, have no one to talk to or support them from beyond the walls of the prison. A regular volunteer visitor can make an enormous difference.


Foreign national prisoners at Huntercombe are from a multitude of backgrounds. Language barriers are a common problem as many prisoners lack good spoken English. Asylum Welcome’s multi-cultural, multi-lingual visitors can act as a bridge.



Huntercombe is a calmer, more orderly environment than Campsfield. This is possibly because inmates know why they are there and when their sentences will finish, whereas in Campsfield, like all immigration removal centres, people had to cope with the uncertainty of being held indefinitely, provoking feelings of depression and anxiety surrounding their future. Nevertheless, foreign prisoners suffer the anxiety of an uncertain future because they do not know what will happen when they have completed their sentence: whether they will be released, kept in prison under immigration powers, transferred to immigration removal centres or if they will be put straight into a plane back ‘home’. Our visiting service is still in its early stages, but we anticipate that we will be an important source of support for those wanting to talk about the impact of this uncertainty on their wellbeing. 


From our experience at Campsfield we anticipate that foreign national prisoners, similar to detainees, will sometimes struggle to understand the systems and procedures affecting their situation, their legal rights and access to representation. We expect that our visiting team will draw to the attention of legal representatives and the prison authorities any instances where prisoners need help to understand and exercise their rights. Asylum Welcome also intends to share its learning from this project with other U.K. organisations to support improvements in policy and practice concerning detainees and foreign national prisoners.

In the current uncertain political times, we firmly believe that it is important to ensure the welfare of this largely politically unpopular yet vulnerable migrant group, and support them while they complete their sentences. By so doing we hope to give them a better chance of reintegration into the society they return to.

Your guide to #Unlocked18

#Unlocked18 marked the 5th year of Unlocking Detention, our virtual ‘tour’ of the UK’s immigration detention estate. Whether you followed the tour from the beginning or you’re just joining us now, we hope you find something to whet your appetite for learning more about detention and how to challenge it. Here’s a guide to the contributions featured in #Unlocked18, with highlights selected by our team of Detention Forum volunteers and images by @Carcazan.

Week 1: Welcome to Unlocking Detention 2018

22 October: Welcome to #Unlocked18!

Detention Forum Project Director Eiri Ohtani welcomes you to the 5th year of Unlocking Detention.

22 October: Unlocking Detention timeline

To mark the 5th year of Unlocking Detention, this timeline tells the story of immigration detention reform from 2014-2018. We released one year at a time as #Unlocked18 progressed and the whole timeline is now available.

22 October: Immigration detention: The glossary

To help navigate the world of immigration detention, we created a visual glossary with key terms and acronyms used during Unlocking Detention. The images from this glossary are available to download and share

23 October: ‘When I become untamed’: Reflections on life in detention

A powerful, evocative poem written and recorded by Red (not his real name), while he was detained in Colnbrook detention centre. Red is a member of the Freed Voices, a group of experts-by-experience, people with lived experience of immigration detention who are committed to speaking out about the realities of immigration detention in the UK. 

25 October: Depicting wisdom: Drawings from detention

Mishka (not his real name) talks about five drawings he created based on his time in immigration detention. Like Red, Mishka is a member of the Freed Voices. Mishka writes, “when I drew these drawings, the pain and trauma blended into these drawings had already healed and turned into wisdom.”

29 October: Week 1: Launching #Unlocked18

Our first weekly roundup for #Unlocked18. Each week of the tour, we published a roundup of everything shared the previous week to make it easier to look back to find your favourite content or see what you’ve missed.

Week 2: Brook House and Tinsley House

29 October: We can make this world like heaven, or we can make it like hell

A blog from Rafiq (not his real name) who was detained in Brook House detention centre. Rafiq says, “I want to speak out about what I experienced there, and I want to talk about how we can fight for justice”.

30 October: #28for28: Working for ‘the better imagined

Anna Pincus at the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group writes about her work with Refugee Tales’ ‘28 tales for 28 days’. This campaign began on 11 September and featured the release of 28 videos of tales over 28 days, to highlight the need for a 28 day time limit for immigration detention. 

31 October: How to help end indefinite detention

Zehrah Hasan, Policy and Campaigns Assistant at human rights campaigning group Liberty, writes about Liberty’s campaign to ‘End Indefinite Detention’.

1 November: Live Q&A with Marino in Brook House

The Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group put us in touch with Marino (not his real name), who joined us on the phone from Brook House for our first live Twitter Q&A for #Unlocked18.

The live Q&A’s were definitely the highlight of #Unlocked18 for me. It was such a privilege to speak with DAK, Seed, Siarhei and Marino, who were generous in sharing their time, expertise and insight. The behind-the-scenes hiccups (illness, language barriers, phone numbers changing at the last minute, losing phone reception) made it more interesting but also brought home – once again – the difficulty of being heard from inside detention.

Susannah, Detention Forum Coordinator

2 November: ‘I leave you to judge’: Reflections from a visitor

Richard (not his real name), a volunteer with Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, has been visiting people detained in Brook House and Tinsley House detention centres for 13 years. He asks, “Do these stories suggest an inadequacy in the detention system of effective legal representation and of support for emotional suffering?”

5 November: Week 2: #Unlocked18 visits Brook House and Tinsley House

Week 3: Prisons and short term holding facilities

5 November: No one left behind: Including people detained in prisons in immigration detention reform

Benny Hunter, from AVID (the Association for Visitors to Immigration Detainees), reminds us that people detained under immigration powers in in prison are often left forgotten in demands for reform. 

5 November: ‘Your voice can make a difference’: Expert-by-Experience interviews a former minister about the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention

In 2014, Sarah Teather MP, who was then the Chair of the APPG on Refugees started the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention, together with APPG on Migration. In this blog, K.A., a member of Freed Voices who was recently detained and released, interviews Sarah about her experience of running the inquiry, and Sarah asked K.A. about his experience of immigration detention. 

6 November: Welcome and hospitality as a force of resistance and change: Sanctuary in Parliament 2018

Sanctuary in Parliament is an annual event which brings local City of Sanctuary groups from around the country to Parliament to meet their MPs to demand change. In 2018, one of its focus issues was a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. Detention Forum Project Director Eiri Ohtani explained how to amplify this demand.

6 November: Immigration detention centres have no place in Manchester or the UK

Lauren Cape-Davenhill, Organiser with These Walls Must Fall, writes about the reopening of a residential short term holding facility near Manchester airport amidst local resistance to immigration detention.

7 November: Immigration detention: Mental torture

A. Panquang, a Detention Forum volunteer and member of the Freed Voices, explores the lasting impact of indefinite immigration detention.

The lack of time limit, the lack of knowledge about who can or might be detained, the lack of control over people’s own immigration process, lack of communication with friends, family and community, the lack of legal advice, access to legal evidence, lack of proper healthcare and the lack of basic humane treatment are instruments used by the Home Office to maximize the mental torture of people in detention.

A. Panquang, Freed Voices

8 November: Detention happens closer than you might think

Katherine Maxwell-Rose, Digital Communications Manager at IMiX, highlights the uncomfortable fact that inhumane detention practices do not just happen elsewhere but also right here in the UK.

9 November: “Immigrants emigrate, hopeful anticipate

Ralph, detained for a total of 14 months in two prisons and a detention centre, wrote these lyrics reflecting on the impact of the UK’s immigration system on his life and family.

13 November: Week 3: #Unlocked18 visits short term holding facilities and prisons

Week 4: Yarl’s Wood

12 November: Theresa: letter from a hunger striker

This letter was sent to the Duncan Lewis Public Law team by Theresa (not her real name), a young mother, from Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. Theresa was one of the leaders of the high-profile hunger-strikes in 2018. She wrote this letter the same evening that she had been refused bail. 

13 November: Resisting state violence: The Yarl’s Wood hunger strike

Fidelis Chebe, Project Director at Migrant Action, writes about the 2018 hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood and other forms of resistance to the use of detention as an instrument of state and corporate violence.

14 November: “For me, Yarl’s Wood was another torture

A blog from Gabby (not her real name), an activist campaigning against immigration detention in the UK who was detained in Yarl’s Wood twice in 2017. She is now an active member of Women for Refugee Women’s network, regularly performing her own poetry and speaking out to call for change.

15 November: Snow: Visiting in Yarl’s Wood

Ali Brumfitt, volunteer coordinator with Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, writes about her experience as a volunteer befriender. She explains, “The journey does not end after detention. Detention changes people. It adds more trauma onto any trauma a person is already carrying.”

16 November: “Every day, they used to walk in and pick somebody”: Living with the uncertainty of detention and removal

Bristol Free Voice, a citizen journalism project, contributed this audio recording of a woman previously detained in Yarl’s Wood reflecting on her experience of detention.

17 November: Eight times in detention: Why?

This blog features words and images produced at one of the weekly ‘drop in’ sessions held by Yarl’s Wood Befrienders, a space where women detained at Yarl’s Wood can come and have a conversation, share a hot drink or play a boardgame. 

22 November: Week 4: #Unlocked18 visits Yarl’s Wood

Week 5: Campsfield House

19 November: Campsfield closing: How did we get here, and what next?

In the first of a two-part blog, a campaigner from Campaign to Close Campsfield looks back at its history and tries to make sense of the government’s recent announcement that Campsfield is to close in 2019.

20 November: Looking back at #Unlocked15: “The involvement of experts-by-experience has always been one of the most meaningful parts of the project

Mishka and Red from Freed Voices (@FreedVoices) interview Lisa Matthews, Coordinator at Right to Remain, about her experience of co-running Unlocking Detention in 2015, and the collective effort involved in bringing it all together.

21 November: Campsfield closing: A history of resistance

In this second part of a two-part blog, a campaigner from Campaign to Close Campsfield looks back at the local history of resistance during the 25 years that Campsfield House detention centre was in operation.

22 November: Q&A with Siarhei in Campsfield House IRC

With assistance from Duncan Lewis solicitors, we spoke to Siarhei, currently detained in Campsfield House. Via interpreter, Siarhei told us about being detained in Campsfield and under immigration powers in prison.

23 November: The voiceless place

Maddy Crowther, Co-Executive Director of Waging Peace and Article 1, co-wrote this blog with Mohammed (not his real name), who has been detained on several occasions. Mohammed talks about the contrast between his treatment in detention and on a recent visit to Parliament.

It’s a big difference to stand in front of huge beautiful doors in Parliament, rather than lay down behind awful steel doors in detention, isn’t it?


27 November: Week 5: #Unlocked18 visits Campsfield House

Week 6: Harmondsworth and Colnbrook

26 November: “We both hoped there wouldn’t be a next visit”: The paradox of visiting detention

In the first of a two-part series from Detention Action, volunteer Anthony talks about his time visiting people detained in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres.

26 November: “I regularly speak to people who are in absolute despair

In a second blog from Detention Action, volunteer Mary-Ann talks about the eye-opening experience of providing casework support to people detained in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook.

27 November: Three years after Moroccan Jew’s death in detention, why no inquest?

Hannah Swirsky, Campaigns Officer at René Cassin, writes about the hidden cruelty of immigration detention as news comes that the inquest into the death of Amir Siman-Tov, a Moroccan Jew who died in Colnbrook immigration detention centre in 2016, has been postponed for a third time.

28 November: “Allowing people to see what might be possible”: Volunteering in detention

Two volunteers with JRS UK reflect on what it’s like to support someone in immigration detention. 

I can’t have any certainty that I will see the same person the following week, either because they are not able for different reasons to come and see me or they have been moved to another centre, released or returned to their home country.

Cashel Riordan, JRS UK volunteer

29 November: “I cannot do anything from here”: LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in detention

Gabriella Bettiga, Legal Officer at UKLGIG (UK Gay and Lesbian Immigration Group), looks at the particular challenges faced by LGBTIQ+ asylum seekers in immigration detention.

It’s hard to choose, much of the content was so affecting, but this was one of two blogs that really brought home the indignity of detention for me (the other was Luke Butterly’s piece on reporting, below). It highlights how immigration detention strips people of their dignity, where LGBTQI+ people who may have left a country where they will have had to conceal their identity for fear of persecution are expected to come out to a Home Office official on arrival or fall foul of the rules and risk deportation.

Catherine, Detention Forum volunteer

29 November: Double-header Q&A: DAK and Seed answer your questions from Harmondsworth IRC

DAK and Seed (not their real names), both detained in Harmondsworth detention centre, spent two hours answering questions sent in from across the UK. DAK had been detained in Harmondsworth for over a year; Seed for a few weeks – and yet both told us about the uncertainty, oppression and wastefulness of indefinite immigration detention.

30 November: “We are not outsiders, we are one of your own”: Hearing Voices peer support groups in detention

Mishka and Red (Freed Voices) and Akiko Hart (Hearing Voices Project Manager at Mind in Camden) discuss the role of peer-facilitated support groups for people who hear voices in immigration detention.

6 December: Week 6: #Unlocked18 visits Harmondsworth and Colnbrook

Week 7: Morton Hall

3 December: “I have seen that the detention system in the UK is broken

Rhiannon Prideaux, a visitor with the Morton Hall Detainee Visitors Group, tells us about the experience of visiting people in detention for over three years. She concludes, “I still think of the people that are detained there every day with no idea what will happen to them and hope that some time in the near future we will see some drastic changes to how the detention system is run in the UK.”

4 December: “There was a chance justice would be done

Mishka at Freed Voices (@FreedVoices) interviews Tamsin Alger, Deputy Director at Detention Action about her experience of the Detained Fast Track (DFT) strategic litigation and campaign. The DFT litigation was one of the key highlights of the 2015 Unlocking Detention timeline.

6 December: Immigration detention is mental torture

Souleymane, a member of Freed Voices, was detained for three and a half years. He writes, “Detention is worse than prison, because in prison you count your days down and in detention you count your days up… and up… and up…”

6 December: “Once a criminal always a criminal”, especially if you don’t have a British passport

Celia Clarke and Rudy Schulkind at BID (Bail for Immigration Detainees) write about the ‘hidden scandal’ of people detained in prisons.

This blog by BID describing the specific and additional disadvantages faced by people detained under immigration powers in prison stood out for me. It also lays out how detention relates to, and is a consequence of, other features of the hostile environment. 

Charlotte, Detention Forum volunteer

7 December: Your pocket Home Office phrasebook: A dialect of dehumanisation

Patrick Page, senior caseworker at Duncan Lewis Solicitors (@DLPublicLaw) and founder and editor of No Walls, contributed this widely-read blog on the insidious language used to dehumanise people in detention.

8 December: “The stain of detention will haunt us for the rest of our lives, but I don’t want it to define us”: Experts-by-experience give evidence to the JCHR inquiry

A. Panquang, a member of Freed Voices and Detention Forum volunteer, talks about giving evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry into immigration detentionalongside Michael, another member of Freed Voices.

13 December: Week 7: #Unlocked18 visits Morton Hall

Week 8: Dungavel

10 December: For many autumns to come

Mishka (Freed Voices) shares a letter written from detention to someone dear to his heart on the eve of his intended removal from the UK. He writes, “Detention is in some ways a graveyard of dreams and hopes and the ghosts of dead dreams and hopes can linger within those walls for months and years.”

This piece moved me on several levels. It’s beautiful, lyrical, intensely human, shattering, selfless and ultimately positive and very uplifting. Despite the anticipated outcome for him, Mishka renews the reader’s faith in the human spirit.

Gareth, Detention Forum volunteer

11 December: Separation and abandonment as a result of detention

A. Panquang, a member of Freed Voices and Detention Forum volunteer, examines the lasting impact of the separation of families when a parent is detained.  

11 December: Because of detention | In spite of detention

Members of the Life After Detention group (LAD) based in Glasgow reflect on the ongoing devastation caused by indefinite detention, as well as the more positive aspects of building a life after detention. 

12 December: When a ‘good’ inspection report is bad news

Kate Alexander, Director of Scottish Detainee Visitors, dissects the latest HMIP report on Dungavel detention centre.

13 December: Hidden in plain sight: Working with trafficked people in detention

Beatrice Grasso, Detention Outreach Manager with JRS UK, writes about their report on the indefinite detention of trafficking survivors. She explains, “Despite showing clear indicators of abuse and vulnerability, they remain hidden in plain sight of those authorities who should protect them.”

13 December: “If I don’t come back, call my lawyer”: Practical solidarity for people at risk of detention

Luke Butterly from Right to Remain talks about ways of showing practical solidarity for people at risk of being detained, including setting up a local signing group.

This is the second blog that really brought home for me the indignity of detention (alongside Gabriella Bettiga’s piece on LGBTQI+ people in detention). Reporting seems to be an exquisite bit of nastiness in this cruel system. As well as showing us the indignity imposed on vulnerable individuals, both of these pieces describe how immigration detention and the hostile environment affect us all. How can a good society allow such indignities to be carried out in our name?  

Catherine, Detention Forum volunteer

14 December: Rebuilding a life after detention

Indre Lechtimiakyte, who coordinates the Ex-Detainee Project for Samphire, tells us about the hopes, fears and challenges faced by people released from detention across the UK. 

14 December: Life after closure: The experiences of the Verne Visitors Group

Ruth Jacobson writes to us from the Verne Visitors Group, established in 2014 to support people detained in The Verne detention centre until its closure in December 2017. “What should be we doing now we were no longer going to be taking the coast road up to the Verne citadel with its deliberately forbidding entrance tunnel and massive walls?”

18 February (better late than never!): Week 8: #Unlocked18 visits Dungavel IRC

Week 9: International Migrants Day

17 December: “It is only an accident of fate that I was born in the UK.” Interview with Baroness Hamwee about her detention reform work

K.A., an expert-by-experience and member of Freed Voices, interviewed Baroness Sally Hamwee, a long-term advocate for detention reform in the House of Lords. She was recently named a Detention Forum Champion in reocognition of her tireless work in challenging immigration detention.

18 December: On International Migrants Day – reasserting humanity and dignity of people in immigration detention

Detention Forum Project Director Eiri Ohtani concludes #Unlocked18 with a rousing piece calling on us to continue to assert the presence, humanity, rights and dignity of everyone affected by detention.

Week 5: #Unlocked18 visits Campsfield House

Last week, #Unlocked18 visited Campsfield House IRC near Oxford. Since it opened in 1993, tens of thousands of people have been detained here indefinitely. The centre has also been the focus of many protests and a sustained campaign for its closure, as the graphic and blogs below demonstrate.

This will be the final time Unlocking Detention visits Campsfield: a few weeks ago, it was announced that the centre will close by May next year. The Detention Forum’s response to this announcement can be found here. A summary of responses can be found here.

Read on for a full round-up of the week.

Campaign to Close Campsfield

This week’s visit included a two-part blog from a campaigner from the Campaign to Close Campsfield. The blogs reflected on the resistance to Campsfield, the announcement that the centre is to close and the question of what will happen to those detained there afterwards. They detail local, national and international activities undertaken over 25 years as part of the campaign to close Campsfield and to end immigration detention. You can read the first part here, and the second here.

In Oxford this week, there was an evening of reflection and discussion on 25 years of resistance to Campsfield (including an exhibition), and a protest outside Campsfield itself.

Looking back at #Unlocked15

To mark the fifth year of Unlocking Detention, we have been releasing a timeline of its history and publishing interviews with people who have been involved.

Two weeks ago, K.A., a member of Freed Voices, interviewed Sarah Teather about the parliamentary inquiry.

This week, Mishka and Red from Freed Voices interviewed Lisa Matthews from Right to Remain about her experience of co-running Unlocking Detention in 2015. In turn, Lisa asked Mishka and Red about Freed Voices. Read it here.

Q&A with Siarhei

On Thursday we held a Twitter Q&A with Siarhei, who is currently detained in Campsfield. You can read a  summary of the Q&A here.

The Voiceless Place

At the end of the week, we had a powerful blog co-written by Maddy from Waging Peace and Mohammed, who has been detained five times. Mo wrote,

I’m one of those people who has suffered a lot and been detained for a variety of periods in different detention centres, two times in Morton Hall, two times in Brook House, once in Oxford, between 2014 and 2017. I’ve never ever forgotten those places. It seems as if I’d committed a crime, but I had not. Do you think I am guilty just being an asylum seeker? Do you think I deserve punishment for that?

Can you imagine what a tough life I had? I bet you can’t.

Mo compared how he was treated when he visited Parliament with how he was treated in detention:

A few weeks after my last period of detention, I was invited to attend a course in Parliament organised by Waging Peace. It’s a completely contradictory feeling. It was an unforgettable day…

It’s a big difference to stand in front of huge beautiful doors in Parliament, rather than lay down behind awful steel doors in detention, isn’t it?

Read the whole blog here.

Unlocking Detention timeline

This week we also released the Unlocking Detention timeline for 2016, available here (along with 2014 and 2015!).

Take action

There are loads of ways to get involved in #Unlocked18 and to take action. One quick way is to send us a selfie to show your support – find out more and download a message card here. A special shout-out to Scottish Detainee Visitors (@SDVisitors) for sharing so many amazing selfies!

Q&A with Siarhei in Campsfield House IRC

Image by @Carcazan

This week, Unlocking Detention has been ‘visiting’ Campsfield House detention centre in Oxfordshire. The Duncan Lewis Public Law, Civil Litigation and Immigration teams put us in touch with Siarhei, who is currently detained in Campsfield. In addition to the normal barriers to communication faced by everyone in detention, Siarhei speaks no English, so Anastasija Vasiljeva in the Civil Litigation team at Duncan Lewis kindly helped to interpret for us.

A huge thank you to Duncan Lewis for their assistance, and to Siarhei for his reflections on being detained in Campsfield and under immigration powers in prison.

Campsfield closing: A history of resistance

Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre opened 25 years ago this month. In this second part of a two-part blog, a campaigner from Campaign to Close Campsfield looks back at the local history of resistance.

On 25 November 1993, the first people were brought from Harmondsworth (near Heathrow airport) to Camspfield detention centre. Twelve demonstrators met the two minibuses at Campsfield main gates and demanded their freedom.

Almost at once there were individual and collective protests by those held inside Campsfield, including signed statements to the authorities, and mass hunger strikes, and these have continued for 25 years.

Outside, there have been around 300 monthly demonstrations (last Saturday of the month at noon) and monthly public meetings in Oxford’s Town Hall (first Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm). Protests by those inside are supported on the first day of the month at 6pm by a vigil at the centre.

The Campaign to Close Campsfield’s chronology of resistance details many hunger strikes and protests directed at the authorities in the detention centre and in government. The campaign website includes the words of people in detention, and also the collections Voices From Detention (2002) and Voices II (2006)

The strategy of the supporting Campaign has been to create awareness and publicity, locally and nationally, and to raise support for the demand to end immigration detention, in the local community and nationally.

Local activities have included:

  • Stalls in the city centre and at local events
  • Monthly demonstrations, public meetings, publicity events and leafleting on specific issues.
  • Providing speakers for interested organisations, 6th forms etc.
  • Supporting university student anti-detention activities.
  • Funding expenses for people with experience of detention to be active in campaigning
  • Speaking up in the media – local radio, TV and press.
  • Annual publication of the Campsfield Monitor newsletter.
  • Working with local Asylum Welcome and Bail for Immigration Detainees staff and volunteers.
  • Working to raise the issue of detention via City and University Amnesty International groups
  • Helping to set up Bicester Refugee Support and Campaign Against Bullingdon Immigration Removal Centre.

Individual and collective actions have included people climbing in to Campsfield and squatting on the roof, lying down to block vehicles, establishing Human Rights Camps outside the gates, and a well-publicised attempt to dig an escape tunnel from the outside.

Rooftop protest, March 1994. Photo: Bill MacKeith

National-level activities have included:

  • Setting up the Network Against Detention (1994) and Barbed Wire Britain network (2001), and helping to set up the Detention Forum.
  • Marching to London to deliver petition for closure (1994).
  • Raising issue in trade unions locally and nationally, securing support of 6 national unions for end to detention.
  • Lobbying meetings with MPs at the House of Commons.
  • Helping to set up Yarl’s Wood 13 and Harmondsworth 4 defence campaigns.
  • Setting up the Bail Observation Project, which has published reports including Immigration Bail Hearings: A Travesty of Justice? (2011) and Still a Travesty (2013).
  • Helping to establish local anti-detention campaigns at other detention centres.

International activities:                                                                     

  • Sending representatives to conferences such as the European Social Forum, and actions such as No Borders camps.
  • Helping to initiate international days of action for migrants’ rights.
  • Working with the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) to raise the issue of immigration detention.
  • Establishing links with campaigns in other countries and with MEPs.
  • Organising a conference on immigration detention in Europe (2000).
  • Submitting evidence to national and international parliamentary and human rights bodies.

Events to mark 25 years of Campsfield

At 7pm Thursday 22 November at Oxford Town Hall, we shall celebrate 25 years of resistance. People who have been detained and campaigners will speak about their experiences over 25 years of struggle. There will be exhibitions and stalls addressing memory, hope and action. We have already received messages from a variety of campaigners over the years.

Then at 12 noon on Saturday 24 November at Campsfield, we shall demonstrate determination to continue the struggle against immigration detention. Speakers will include people who have been detained, and local MPs Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) and Anneliese Dodds (Oxford East). You can find more information on our flyer.

The same day, from 2.30-5pm, there will be an anti-detention Barbed Wire Britain gathering at Exeter Hall Kidlington OX5 1AB with refreshments.

Campsfield closing: How did we get here, and what next?

Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre opened 25 years ago this month. In this first part of a two-part blog, a campaigner from Campaign to Close Campsfield looks back at its history and tries to make sense of the government’s announcement that Campsfield is to close.

On Friday 9 November, the government announced that Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre is to close in May 2019. The Home Office statement bears quoting in full (emphasis added).

Today, the Home Office has announced that Campsfield House immigration removal centre will close by May 2019, when the current management contract with Mitie Care and Custody ends.

The closure of the 282 bed centre is part of Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s commitment to cut the number of people detained at any given timeand improve the welfare of detainees. These reforms were announced in response to Stephen Shaw’s review into welfare of vulnerable people in detention.

By next summer, the Home Office will aim to reduce the immigration detention estate by almost 40% since 2015.

Immigration Minister, Caroline Nokes said:

I am grateful to all the staff who’ve worked at Campsfield over the years for their commitment and professionalism.

Now is the right time to modernise and rationalise the detention estate.We are committed to ensuring we have a fair and humane immigration system that provides control, and detention must only be used when we are confident no other approaches will work.

In response to Stephen Shaw’s second review of the government’s approach to vulnerable people in immigration detention, the Home Office committed to working with charities, faith groups, communities and other stakeholders to develop alternatives to detention, strengthening support for vulnerable detainees and increasing transparency.

In addition, reforms have already led to a reduction in the number of occupants per room, and will improve facilities in immigration removal centres, including piloting the use of Skype and reviewing the training and support for staff in immigration removal centres.

In 2015, Centres in Dover and Haslar closed and the Verne Immigration Removal Centre in Dorset closed in January 2018. There are no current plans for further immigration removal centre closures. However, as the Home Office progresses with reforms outlined in the response to Stephen Shaw’s second review, the use of immigration detention and the implications for the detention estate as a whole, will be kept under review.

The Campaign to Close Campsfield and End All Immigration Detention responded:

The announcement that Campsfield is to close is long overdue.

We think soberly of all the harm done, the lives damaged or destroyed, and those lost  – 18-year-old Kurd Ramazan Kamluca in June 2005 and Moldovan Ianos Dragotan in August 2011 – at Campsfield over the past twenty-five years.

The name of our campaign is Campaign to Close Campsfield and End All Immigration Detention.

With Campsfield next May, four detention centres will have closed in four years. The number of people in detention is currently down some 20 per cent from the peak in 2015.

But the misery and injustice of immigration detention continues at Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, Brook and Tinsley, Morton Hall, and Dungavel. These too have to go. We shall work for that.

It would be simplistic to see this as a ‘victory’ for the Campaign to Close Campsfield. Three other detention centres have recently closed without the benefit of a long-sustained and high-profile closure campaign.

But I think there is no doubt that the closure announcement comes as a result of a steadily built up national movement against immigration detention in which the resistance inside Campsfield detention centre and outside it locally has played a significant part. This many-faceted movement within and outside parliament movement is what resulted in a government announcement in 2016 that it would seek to detain fewer people for shorter periods and would pursue alternatives to detention.

Elements in the build-up of pressure on the government have been:

We can also point to local Oxfordshire successes in stopping government plans for an 800-place accommodation centre for asylum seekers (2002) and an 800-place closed detention centre (2007), both at nearby Bicester, and a doubling of the size of Campsfield (2015). These have been seen off by well-organised local opposition with national support. These may be a reason why the government has selected Campsfield for closure.

‘Rationalisation’ may indicate a strategy of fewer (and perhaps bigger) detention centres near the main airports. In this respect, if Heathrow expansion goes ahead, then the two Heathrow detention centres will be demolished and the government will likely seek to rebuild on a new site. The £240 million contract with Mitie to run these centres expires on 31 August 2022.

Caution: The February 2002 announcement that Campsfield was to close was (after the fire at Yarl’s Wood) reversed. It could happen again.

What will happen to the people inside when they are released?

This has been a very common question since the closure announcement. It is not the case that 286 people (Campsfield’s capacity) will be turned out penniless in the dead of night. (Even if it were, I suspect those detained would choose that rather than continued detention.) On the day of the announcement, there were only 119 people detained in Campsfield (a pattern reflected in other centres). So the run-down has begun. The fact that 1,000-2,000 fewer people will be detained each year when Campsfield closes is to be supported.

But it is right to ask what kind of hostile environment is it that people who are not detained have to put up with? The answer is, yes. The fact that a closure announcement provokes the question can be used to good effect. Some possible demands that might be made in this light are:

On 21 November there will be a further blog on a history of resistance and events to mark 25 years of protest against immigration detention in Campsfield House.

The guide to #Unlocked17 blogs is here!

Thank you for following Unlocking Detention in 2017!  We have listed all the blogs that were published during #Unlocked on this webpage for easy reference. Did you have any particular favourite? If so, tweet at us at @DetentionForum and let us know!

16 October: Welcome to #Unlocked17

16 October: ‘Do you know what immigration detention is?’ Part 1 Told by Mrs A, expert-by-experience

17 October: ‘Do you know what immigration detention is?’ Part 2 Told by Mrs A, expert-by-experience 
As we begin this year’s Unlocking Detention tour, we are sharing this two-part series by Mrs A, submitted by her solicitor at Duncan Lewis. We have not met Mrs A. We have no idea who she is.  We understand that she was detained herself and wants to tell you about the secret world of immigration detention.  And here it is, her take on immigration detention in the United Kingdom.

17 October: #Unlocked17 – a beginners’ level quiz

18 October: For groups wanting to support Unlocking Detention
One of the themes of this year’s Unlocking Detention tour is action.  We are distributing the following material for groups interested in joining the tour.  Please feel free to use them, share with others and so on!

18 October: Verne closes, Shaw looms
Detention Action has been running advice surgeries every month at the Verne detention centre, which is set to close at the end of this year.  Jerome Phelps, Director of Detention Action, considers what our next task is.  

18 October: “We need it now. People are dying.” Freed Voices lobbying for #Time4aTimeLimit
The theme of this year’s Unlocking Detention is ‘action’ so who better to hear from than the Freed Voices group. Earlier this week, Mishka from Freed Voices joined campaigners Fred Ashmore and Timothy Gee from the Quakers to lobby the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable. We sat down with Mishka to ask him a few questions about the experience.

20 October: ‘The Seamed Zones’
Where does ‘invisibility’ of immigration detention centres start?  Ben du Preez, Campaigns Coordinator at Detention Action, stares into the gap between nonplace-ness of detention centres and their material human impact and finds hope in Experts-By-Experience’s power to bring the truth to light.  

Week 2: Yarl’s Wood 

23 October: ‘Everyday in Yarl’s Wood is a struggle’
Boatemaa* was detained in Yarl’s Wood earlier this year.  She was recently released from Yarl’s Wood, to continue with her asylum case, after four months in detention.  She shares her story here.  

24 October: Photo essay ‘To Yarl’s Wood detention centre’
Yarl’s Wood detention centre is perhaps the most high-profile centres in the UK.  This photo essay is for those of you who have never been to this detention centre.

25 October: ‘A country I had called home for 13 years had imprisoned me.’
Families with children were regularly detained at Yarl’s Wood and Dungavel detention centres until the change of policy in 2010 drastically reduced the number of children detained.  Now, a smaller number of families with children are detained in an unit within Tinsley detention centre.  But what happened to many children who were detained at Yarl’s Wood and who are turning into adults in the UK?  Ijeoma Datha-Moore, from Let Us Learn, looks back on her 15-year-old self who suddenly found her and her family detained at Yarl’s Wood.  When she finished writing this piece, Ijeoma said ‘I’ve done it. I can’t tell you how odd it felt, but empowering. I am so proud of myself for being able to do this.’ A big thank you to Ijeoma for sharing her story with Unlocking Detention. 

26 October: Remembering My First Time
Though no official survey exists, UK is one of the few countries around the world where each detention centre has a dedicated visitor’s group, in addition to other groups who visit formally and informally multiple centres.  Hundreds of people must be regularly visiting those held in detention centres, but what does visiting really do?  Sonja Miley of Waging Peace write how she found an answer to this question, during her very first visit to Yarl’s Wood.

Week 2 summary blog: #Unlocked17 visits Yarls Wood

Week 3: Brook House and Tinsley House

30 October: ‘I try to forget about everything that I went through at Brook House.’
Paul* was removed from Brook House to Jamaica earlier this year, after being detained for over two years.  For the last six months of his detention, he had signed up to return voluntarily.  Paul talked to Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, who supported him during his detention, about his attempt to ‘forget about everything’ that he went through at Brook House.  (This is not his real name.)

31 October: Why political pressure needs to be ramped up now
The Detention Forum which runs Unlocking Detention is a network of many groups who have been working together to challenge UK’s immigration detention policy and practice.  Jon Featonby, one of its Coordination Group members, explains why now is the time for everyone to start taking action against detention. 

Week 3 summary blog: #Unlocked17 visits Brook House and Tinsley House

Week 4: Prisons and Short Term Holding Facilities

6 November: ‘There are no real seasons in detention. It’s just a grey blur. White noise.’
Immigration detention is sometimes described as ‘administrative detention in prison-like conditions’.  And the Home Office can detain people under immigration powers in prisons. In fact, as at 26 June 2017, there were 360 people held in prison establishments in England and Wales as “immigration detainees”. But what are the differences between being held in prisons and being held in detention centres?  Sam, from the Freed Voices, contemplates on this question. This piece was originally published in May 2017 by Detention Action.   

7 November: ‘No one has even thought of me or visited me’ – immigration detention in prisons
When we talk about immigration detention, of course we think of immigration detention centres.  But hundreds of people are also detained as “immigration detainees” in many ordinary prisons.  Ali McGinley of AVID shines light on this forgotten group of people and their daily struggles to be heard.

7 November: Parliamentary meeting on immigration detention on 16 November – is your MP attending?

8 November: An open letter: “My name is Nobody”
For many involved in asylum and migration justice work, immigration detention was a taboo subject for a long time and, in some quarters, it still is. One of the reasons for this is the mixed nature of those incarcerated. It is not just “model” asylum seekers who find themselves in detention: people from all sorts of experiences and life trajectories get incarcerated because they do not have a right type of passport or visa. But ‘As a society, how and who do we deem worthy of our empathy?’. Isabel Lima, visual artist and researcher, shares with Unlocking Detention her open letter about Nobody, a man with ‘many qualities and faults’ who finds himself in limbo. This letter is based on a true story and Nobody was anonymised for security reasons. 

9 November: If I am ever detained
There is understandably huge interest in knowing what immigration detention centres look like: barbed wire and prohibition of cameras inside the centres increase people’s curiosity.  But can you see the impact of immigration detention with your eyes?  What does immigration detention do to us? In this blog, Eiri Ohtani (@EiriOhtani), the Project Director of the Detention Forum shares her reflection and that of her colleague, Heather Jones (@Heather_Jones5) who has been visiting Yarl’s Wood detention centre for many years. They visited Alice* who was detained at Yarl’s Wood detention centre. (This is not her real name.)

Week 4 summary blog: Week 4: Prisons and Short Term Holding Facilities

Week 5: The Verne

13 November: ‘The Verne is closing but for those of us who experienced it, it will always be open’
We are told that the Verne detention centre will be closed at the end of 2017.  But is it really closing in the minds of those who were detained there? ‘Juan’ from Freed Voices responds to this news with this poem.

13 November: “When you see injustice – speak out!”: These Walls Must Fall in Manchester
Without people taking action, change won’t happen.  Luke Butterly of Right to Remain reports back on a recent campaign event of These Walls Must Fall which took place in Manchester.  This blog was originally published on Right to Remain’s website here.  

14 November: Won’t somebody please think of the children
The impact of immigration detention is not confined behind the gates of the detention centres: it involves people’s children, families, friends etc. Nick Watts is a child & family practitioner and co-founder of the charity Migrant Family Action, that provides specialist social work, advocacy and youth work to families who are oppressed as a result of their immigration status. Nick explains here what types of impact immigration detention has on children whose family member is detained.

15 November: The Verne IRC: on either side of the razor wire
Maddie Biddlecombe is a member of Verne Visitors Group in Portland and sent us this reflection.  The Verne detention centre is set to close at the end of 2017.   

16 November: Trafficked into detention
Trafficked people in detention are being denied the full protection of the Home Office’s flagship system for protecting victims of modern slavery, according to new research by Detention Action. Many victims of trafficking are taken to high-security detention centres after being picked up in raids on places of exploitation such as cannabis factories. Once in detention, they are treated as irregular migrants to be removed, and find it difficult to access support for victims of modern slavery. Susannah Wilcox of Detention Action explains how came to light through Detention Action’s casework and what their research found. 

16 November: Going Behind the Walls
Located on the Isle of Portland, off Weymouth in Dorset, the Verne epitomises the Government’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to detention. In this blog, Ruth Jacobson of the Verne Visitors Group describes how this isolation compounds the many harms of indefinite detention, how the group seeks to challenge this, and their reaction to the announced closure of the Verne.     

19 November: #Unlocked17 Parliamentary Meeting on Immigration Detention

Week 5 summary blog: Week 5: #Unlocked17 Visits The Verne

Week 6: Campsfield House

20 November: Walls of resistance
This piece is written for Unlocking Detention by ‘Jose’ of the Freed Voices group (the author’s name has been altered to protect their identity). ‘Jose’ was detained in Campsfield detention centre.   

21 November: Detained for sleeping rough
Increased detention and deportation of EU citizens from the UK has been in the news for some time, especially in the context of debates surrounding Brexit.  NELMA has been working with EU citizens who have been detained while sleeping rough.   

21 November: WORKSHOP 11 DEC, GLASGOW – Oral histories of immigration detention: ethical approaches in research and activism

22 November: Slave Wages: How Our Clients Shone a Light on Detention Centre Exploitation
Toufique Hossain, Director of Public Law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, specialises in challenging Government policy and practice in asylum and immigration law, with a particular focus on unlawful detention policies. He tells Unlocking Detention about the strategic litigation case of “slave wage” in detention centres he has been involved with and what it is like to represent people who are caught up in this never-ending nightmare of immigration detention.  

23 November: “Time After Time”: music from Campsfield House detention centre
In this blog, Ruth Nicholson describes a day of Music In Detention’s songwriting workshops in Campsfield House. Ruth is a musician, and a volunteer both for Music In Detention (MID) and the Detention Forum. This blog was originally published by Music in Detention in March this year here where you can also listen to the music recorded in Campsfield.

23 November: ‘Young arrivers’ caught in immigration detention
Dan Godshaw (@DanGodshaw) has worked for NGOs on migrant advocacy and support for 10 years. He has visited people held at Brook House IRC as well as supporting Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group’s (@GatDetainees) research and campaigning work since 2013. Dan holds an MA in Migration Studies from The University of Sussex, and is currently an ESRC-funded doctoral researcher on immigration detention and gender at The University of Bristol. 

24 November: ‘When I first visited someone in immigration detention I knew I must speak out.’
Immigration detention is an important issue for many Friends (Quakers). Bridget Walker, who is part of the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network, details the conditions she witnessed and those endured by detained peoples.  This blog was originally published by Quakers in Britain 

Week 6 summary blog: Week 6: #Unlocked17 visits Campsfield House

Week 7: Harmondsworth and Colnbrook                                       

27 November: Five guys
Reflections on indefinite detention are often framed in the singular, as personal and introspective testimonies. In this special piece for Unlocking Detention, however, Mishka from Freed Voices, sketches five guys that shaped his experience of Harmondsworth detention centre and continue to dominate his thoughts today, post-release. 

28 November: Ten years on: reflections on a decade working on the injustice of detention
Immigration detention and the detention estate sometimes appear permanent and unchanging. However, underneath the surface, things are changing. Tamsin Alger, Casework and Policy Manager at Detention Action, looks back at a catalogue of actions people in detention, she and her organisation have taken to challenge immigration detention over the last 10 years.  

29 November: Four days in Colnbrook
This blog was written by Helen*, a US citizen who travelled to the UK and was detained earlier this year. She spent four days in Colnbrook detention centre, before being returned to the US.  In this blog, she recounts her experience.

30 November: The Importance of Being With
Beatrice Grasso is Detention Outreach Manager at Jesuit Refugee Service UK where, with volunteers, she supports many detained in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres. In this blog, she explains how their mission “Accompany, Serve and Advocate” informs and shapes their work in these detention centres, ‘places most people don’t even realise exist’.

1 December: From British playgrounds to Immigration Removal Centres
Authors: Candice Morgan-Glendinning and Dr Melanie Griffiths (University of Bristol) The following post is informed by an ESRC-funded project running at the University of Bristol. The research examines the intersection of family life and immigration policy for families consisting of British or EEA nationals and men with precarious or irregular immigration status. Further project information, including a report and policy briefings can be found here:

Week 7 summary blog: Week 7: #Unlocked17 visits Harmondsworth and Colnbrook

Week 8: Morton Hall

4 December: Mapping detention
In this piece, Freed Voices members are our guides to the psycho-geography of detention centres, including Morton Hall which Unlocking Detention is visiting this week. The piece was originally published on Detention Action’s webpage here in 2016, in response to Unlocking Detention. Please do visit the original webpage which contains a full piece with more visual material. *The names of some Freed Voices members in this piece have been changed.

5 December: It’s about time – a time limit on immigration detention
Since the publication of Detained Lives (which Tamsin Algers refers to in her earlier blog here), a campaign to end UK’s practice of indefinite detention has been gathering pace.  Rachel Robinson, Advocacy Manager for Liberty, argues why the time is now to end this practice once and for all.  

6 December: Over 150 people demonstrate to mark 24 years since Campsfield ‘House’ opened
This blog was written by Bill MacKeith, joint organiser of the Campaign to Close Campsfield, for Unlocking Detention. Photos: Campaign to Close Campsfield

7 December: Putting stock Home Office statements in the stocks
New Freed Voices member, John P.*, was recently released after ten months detained in Morton Hall IRC in Lincolnshire. For this #Unlocked17 special, he sat down with Detention Action to go through his thoughts on some of the stock phrases the Home Office trot out in response to anti-detention campaigners. * John P. is not the author’s real name. This has been changed to protect his identity.

8 December: ‘A Prison For My Heart’
Coming out is often be a nervous and fearful experience – what does it feel like to that in immigration detention? Umar (not his real name) had to do that to protect his life. We are grateful to Umar who said he wanted share his story in order to raise awareness about the plight of LGBTI asylum-seekers and refugees and made this story publicly available, though was anxious to conceal his identity.  

Week 8 summary blog: Week 8: #Unlocked17 visits Morton Hall 

Week 9: Dungavel

11 December: Visiting Dungavel for another year…
This week, #Unlocked17 is visiting Dungavel, Scotland’s only detention centre. In this blog, Kate Alexander, Director of Scottish Detainee Visitors (SDV), reflects on another year of visiting Dungavel, and takes us on the journey that visitors make twice a week. Visitors also prepare a report after every visit, which Kate reviews. Here, she highlights the patterns she sees in these reports: of visitors’ concerns about the health of those in detention, frequently linked to the length of time people have been detained; of people’s frustration, anger and distress at their detention and the complex immigration processes they are caught up in; and of their worries about their families on the outside. 

12 December: If only everyone could be welcomed as warmly as Paddington…
Jawad Anjum and Steve Rolfe are activists with Global Justice Glasgow, a group of committed people who campaign to tackle the root causes of global poverty and injustice as part of Global Justice Now, a democratic movement in the UK which campaigns in solidarity with people in the global South. They write for Unlocking Detention about a lively campaign that is going on in Scotland.  

13 December: Life After Detention: A Film
The harm caused by detention does not end once a person is released. For many, the trauma of detention, and the struggles with uncertainty, continue. This is the subject of ‘Life After Detention’, a new film made in collaboration with the Life After Detention group from Scottish Detainee Visitors. The group filmed aspects of their life in Glasgow on their mobile phones and worked with film-maker and SDV volunteer, Alice Myers, to create the film. It was premiered at an Unlocking Detention event on Tuesday 12 December at the Glad Cafe in Glasgow.

18 December: Guantanamo Bay, A Tube Ride Away
In the final week of Unlocking Detention, we are now looking at where we will go from here. And we believe it is a perfect opportunity to publish this speech delivered last month by Jose, from the Freed Voices group to launch Amnesty’s #WriteForRights project. Jose says, ‘hope calls for action, just as action is impossible without hope’ and shares what gave him hope when he was in detention and when he is campaigning to end indefinite detention. The speech was originally published by Detention Action.

19 December: “If more people knew what was going on, more would recoil in disgust and demand explanations.”
This year’s Unlocking Detention featured over 40 blogs. Massive thank you to everyone who contributed and shone a light on the reality of immigration detention! As we conclude this year’s tour, some of the volunteers running the project share blogs that have left special impression on their minds. If there was any blog that especially resonated with you, do let us know which one and also why.

Week 9 Summary: #Unlocked visits Dungavel

Guantanamo Bay, a tube ride away

In the final week of Unlocking Detention, we are now looking at where we will go from here. And we believe it is a perfect opportunity to publish this speech delivered last month by Jose, from the Freed Voices group to launch Amnesty’s #WriteForRights project. Jose says, ‘hope calls for action, just as action is impossible without hope’ and shares what gave him hope when he was in detention and when he is campaigning to end indefinite detention. The speech was originally published by Detention Action here
“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”
I read that quote around a year ago.
It is from Nelson Mandela.
He wrote it when he was detained in Robben Island.
I read it when I detained in Campsfield House detention centre.
It is in Oxford, 60 miles from here.
Harmondsworth – the largest detention centre in Europe – is even nearer.
It is in Heathrow, less than an hour away by tube.
At this exact time, about 600 men in Harmondsworth will be preparing to be locked in their cells…like animals.
These are innocent men.
Their only crime is that they are migrants.
Like the other 30,000 people detained in the UK every year, they are being held without the right to a fair trial.
They are being held at the administrative convenience of the UK Government.
They are being held without an end in sight.
Because – and this is something I did not know before I came here – the UK is the only country in Europe that has a policy of indefinite detention.
People are locked away in mini-Guantanamo Bays all over your country.
It’s not just Cuba, Kabul, Kingston I’m afraid…
It’s also Dorset, and Lincoln, and Bedfordshire.
No-one in detention knows how long they will be there for.
I was held for four and half months.
The Freed Voices group as a whole has lost over twenty years of our lives to detention in the UK.
Before I came here, when I thought of the UK I thought of the best music, rock and roll,
I thought of a modern, first-world country…with a ‘strong and stable’ economy.
I thought of a country with respect for human rights and human decency.
I actually read that Nelson Mandela quote before I was in detention, back home in Venezuela, where I am from.
But it still amazes me that I had to come from a third world country to a first-world country to really understand the truth of it.
It is very difficult to explain the impact of indefinite detention to someone who hasn’t experienced it themselves.
Indefinite detention destroys your trust in everything, and everyone, around you.
It is designed to make you feel powerless.
It is designed to make you think that your imprisonment is inevitable.
And so, depression and death are part of the DNA of detention.
20,000 people have been on suicide watch in detention since 2007.
The rate of suicide attempts is now more than one a day.
31 people have died in detention – three between August and September this year, alone.
Hope is in very, very short supply inside detention – they squeeeeze it out.
And that is why I thank you for making a detention a focus of your Write for Rights project this year.
I survived detention because people from outside, came in – not physically, but emotionally…in solidarity.
I remember one of the first things I did was a live Twitter Q&A with Ben from Detention Action.
He asked me what I could see from my window.
Even this simple question made me feel a bit more human, a bit more real.
A few weeks after the Q&A there was a demonstration outside the detention centre.
The people there were not directly affected by the issue.
But they stood and shouted: ‘Set Them Free! Set Them Free!’
In that moment, I did not feel alone.
I felt like there was an army behind me, winds of justice in my sails.
It gave me the strength to fight my case…and eventually, I was released.
If your letters can do that – if they can give people the hope to fight – then they can be half the battle.
I say half because, in reality, we need more than letters of support – we need real change, real action.
Because hope calls for action, just as action is impossible without hope.
And so, I am using this opportunity to urge you all to get involved in the fight against indefinite detention.
It is one the most serious human rights and civil liberties abuses in the UK today.
The Home Office’s own report last year concluded it was ‘an affront to civilised values’.
And so…to finish…I guess the real question is: what are British values?
What are Amnesty values?
What are your values?
And do they allow for something like indefinite detention…just a tube ride away.
Thank you.

Over 150 people demonstrate to mark 24 years since Campsfield ‘House’ opened

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.

Week 6: #Unlocked17 visits Campsfield House

The focus of this week’s #Unlocked17 tour was Campsfield House, near Oxford airport. It has been an immigration detention centre for almost a quarter of a century – a 24th anniversary demonstration took place this week.
Since it was converted from a young offender institution to a detention centre in November 1993, over 30,000 people have been detained here.
Up to 282 men can be held here at any one time. In 2015, local action helped to prevent it from being doubled in size.

An introduction to Campsfield, in tweets

Walls of Resistance

This week we heard from Jose of Freed Voices, who was detained in Campsfield. He talks us through the pictures on his wall, describing those who inspired him musically and politically while in detention (and afterwards).
He tells us about how detention politicised him, and made him believe that change is both necessary and possible. In a powerful call-to-action, he says, “Detention… will only change if people in the street are engaged with it. Rightly or wrongly, this government was chosen by the people. The responsibility for the human disgrace of detention must be shared. It is not just the government to blame. The people themselves need to remember their own role in a parliamentary democracy. They have to remind the MPs that they are representing them and their values.” 
(Have you written to your MP? If not, there’s some more info about why you should contact them, and what to say, here. You can find your MP here.)

Also on the blog this week:

On Tuesday, we heard from North East London Migrant Action (NELMA) and the Public Interest Law Unit at Lambeth Law Centre. The have been granted permission for a judicial review of the Home Office’s policy of detaining and deporting homeless EU citizens. In this blog, they tell the stories of Mihal and Teodora, EU citizens who were detained for sleeping rough.

On Wednesday, Toufique Hossain, Director of Public Law at Duncan Lewis Solicitors, wrote about the strategic litigation case of “slave wages” in detention centres. Detention centre providers employ those who are detained to do essential work for them, with a maximum wage set by the Home Office of £1 an hour.
Toufique concludes, “We will keep fighting for an end to this state-sanctioned slavery. Like immigration detention as a whole, there is absolutely no place for it in a civilised society, but it is happening just down the road.”

For Thursday’s blog, we went back to Campsfield. Ruth Nicholson, a musician, and a volunteer both for Music In Detention (MID) and the Detention Forum, described a day of songwriting workshops in Campsfield House. You can also watch a film about MID’s work in Campsfield:

Dan Godshaw wrote a blog highlighting the findings and recommendations of a new piece of research that he conducted with Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group (GDWG). You can read the blog here, and the full report here.
The research uncovers the ways in which people who arrived in the UK when they were under 18 become detained as adults, and explores how detention affects them as a distinctive group.

The final blog of the week came from Bridget Walker, part of the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network. She says, “When I first visited someone in immigration detention I knew I must speak out. It is one of the darkest corners of our asylum system and not widely known. It is against our testimony to equality and must be brought into the light and brought to an end.”

 24th Anniversary Demonstration

On Saturday 25th November, there was a 24th anniversary demonstration at Campsfield House, organised by the Campaign to Close Campsfield.

Both of Oxford’s two MPs – Layla Moran MP (Oxford West), and Anneliese Dodds MP (Oxford East) – spoke at the demonstration, showing their support for detention reform.
Layla Moran said she has “always felt the system is broken, and that it is a slight on society that these centres even exist – let alone that we are one of the few developed countries where we have indefinite detention”.
Anneliese Dodds MP called the centre “a stain on our here in conscience in Oxford”. In five months of casework (since she became an MP), she is already seeing the impact that indefinite detention has on people’s physical and mental health, and the “gradual grinding down people feel when they don’t know when they will be with their families or have a normal life”.

Dungavel demonstration

Also this week, a group from Justice and Peace Scotland gathered outside Dungavel (in the snow!).
Unlocking Detention’s virtual tour of Dungavel will take place from the 11th – 17th December – follow us on Twitter and via #Unlocked17 to join us.