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.
On a foggy, chilly morning in January, I joined two Music In Detention artists for a day trip to Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, where we would make music with men being held there as immigration detainees. Michael, Oliver and I squashed ourselves into a car full of musical instruments and equipment and drove through the grey haze towards Oxfordshire.
Campsfield House is located at the end of a long country lane, opposite Oxford Airport and just outside a village called Kidlington. We arrived about 45 minutes before our first workshop, and were greeted enthusiastically by Munya, an officer originally from Zimbabwe who would escort us all day and supervise our two workshops. He said he always looks forward to Music In Detention visits and Oliver agreed he “brings the hype”, making sure there are always plenty of people in attendance.
Our objective was to record a song in a day, but it’s important to be flexible in these workshops. As Michael said in the car on the way, “It’s like if you’re a vet and someone brings in a snake, and you say “Oh, I don’t want to treat a snake… Have you got a rabbit instead?” You’ve got to deal with what’s in front of you.” We can’t guess what the atmosphere of a workshop will be like, and we can’t predict who will come, what they’ll want to do or what kinds of skills they’ll have.
We set up for the first session in the ‘big screen room’, or cinema, where the end-credits of a film were rolling. We’d brought a couple of guitars, a drum machine, a few amps, a melodica, a multi-track looping recorder, microphones, a violin, lots of cables and other assorted pieces of equipment. Munya helped us carry a keyboard (a tone out of tune, as the pitch-bend wheel was broken), a couple of drums and more small amps from the chapel, and a bass guitar and a couple of beaten-up guitars from a locked cupboard.
Soon the room was filled with men wondering what was about to happen. “Are we having a music festival?” “Are you going to perform for us?” Oliver responded: “We’re all going to sing and make music together.” Michael and Oliver plugged in and straight away got a groove going using the drum machine, bass guitar and multi-track looper, and Oliver improvised lyrics over the top, inviting the men to join in. I plugged in my violin and jammed along, and Oliver gave me a space to improvise a solo. The workshop kicked off very quickly – the room was suddenly full of curious faces, and before long the microphone was being passed around for people to share songs.
There were three participants who stood out to me: first, a charismatic Kurdish man who performed in Arabic, galvanising the excitement and participation of other Arabic speakers in the room; second, a Bengali man who was initially shy about performing, but sat attentively with a djembe drum through the other performances, eventually gaining the confidence to sing himself; and finally, a young Indian man who showed Michael the keyboard accompaniment of a song he knew and performed at the end of the session.
The atmosphere of this first workshop was lively and loud, with lots of energy and excitement. It was quite chaotic, and very much led by the detainees! People sang songs they knew, and improvised vocals over beats and riffs provided by Michael, Oliver and me. Munya joined in with drums and dancing, and Michael and I were persuaded to play ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (not for the first time!). Two hours flew by and it was time to finish. There had been a camera going around the group for the whole session, and several of the men were keen to get photos of us with them.
After a much-needed pub meal in Kidlington, we went back to Campsfield House for the evening session. There was a big football match being shown in the big screen room so we moved the equipment and instruments into the education room, which was smaller. We set everything up, and Oliver and Michael recorded and looped some riffs we’d come up with in the first session.
The room filled up very quickly, with some of the same people from the first session, and plenty of new faces. The first workshop had been very cathartic and excitable, and this one was too, but in a more focused way. The atmosphere was electric. We started the same way as the first workshop, with the three of us jamming together to draw people in, and then Oliver inviting them to join in. This time the men taking part wanted to take turns freestyling raps to a beat. They would tell us the vibe they wanted (one guy was really into grime, and another wanted old-school hip-hop beats) and Michael and Oliver would immediately produce that sound using the drum machine, keyboard, guitar and bass. Sometimes I joined in on the violin, but only when I felt the music called for it. Otherwise I just enjoyed listening.
Michael was great at coming up with cool keyboard riffs on the spot, and Oliver was excellent at encouraging the men to speak or sing into the microphone. One man with a gold tooth began his rap by saying “This is my first time spitting bars!” and everybody cheered. And he was great. Another picked up the microphone, opened his mouth and said “Immigration … f*ck!” Everybody laughed and clapped. It seemed everybody felt they could just say whatever was on their minds – whether that meant talking about life in detention, or imagining themselves chatting someone up in a bar. It was heartening to be in such a warm and welcoming space, where people were egging each other on.
Very organically, this session had become about creating new music rather than performing known music, and Oliver got to work making sure it got recorded. Powerful streams of words were spilling out of the men’s mouths; they took turns, almost competing, with wide grins on their faces. The eventual song Oliver captured was based, by request, on Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’, with Michael playing the keyboard.
“I like it how the music workers help us release our stress. They came here, gave us some entertainment, trying to kill time. I’m thinking right now, is it midnight?”
“Some people outside, they say, they got a lot of addictions: alcoholics, crackheads… and they have so much, you know, but I don’t think … nothing that can be more addictive than music.”
At the end of a long day, we drove back home feeling exhausted but accomplished.

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.  
Before I went to detention, I had posters of musicians on my wall. No revolutionaries, or civil rights leaders or anything like that. I think I maybe had a ‘Banksy in Palestine’ or something, but that was it, nothing personal to my politics. It was a true representation of where I was at. I was interested in politics but it was an informational relationship. I would have a conversation about political things with people but never really a debate. I didn’t want the confrontation. I also never really believed I could be part of anything that would bring a change. Or that change itself was really possible. Or necessary, to be honest. Detention changed everything. It politicised me.
This is what my current wall looks like and why:

  • Detention Music Group

This is a picture of me with me with my music group in detention. Music saved me in that place. Playing the guitar there was the only place I felt creative and detention looks to suppress anything like that, any kind of expression – musical, emotional or political. A few people heard me play and said they wanted to learn. I said, ‘well we have plenty of time here – our detention is indefinite’. So we set up a class and I facilitated this small group of guys. Just the fact that someone is acknowledging you and your skill – or even your potential to learn that skill – is very rare in detention. It reflects a humanity at odds with the process. I got a lot from teaching and from the fact people kept coming back. Recently, months after leaving detention, I found out another guy had set up a similar group. That genuinely moved my heart. It made me very proud. I want to hug that guy. Because I know how important it will be for him and for others to survive mentally.

  • Karl Marx

When a government challenges you in the way detention challenges does, you start to re-evaluate the systems that framed that experience. It is not necessarily that I see myself as a Marxist. It’s more a reminder that it is important to hold on to an idea about how society could, and should, be better. And to bring that about sometimes that demands real, radical action. I also respect Marx because he wasn’t just a political thinker, he was also a sociologist, an economist and a philosopher. He wasn’t defined by one thing and I don’t intend to be defined by one thing either: ‘migrant’, ‘ex-detainee’, no…He was also different from the political leaders of today who just try to appeal to whoever will get them re-elected. He was fighting for something much bigger than himself. He is a reminder that we need to keep going even if we aren’t going to be the ones to benefit directly by the change. I am inspired by his legacy.

  • Gandhi

This picture was a gift from a friend of mine who gave it to me after a conversation we had after my release from detention. I like Gandhi because he reminds me of the importance of finding a balance. You experience so much violence in detention…so much ugliness…that you can get stuck in a kind of aggressive state. I think it’s important not to lose this but I want to change the system, not simply destroy it. So I need to find the strength and resilience to think tactically and channel my anger in the right ways. Gandhi encourages me to use my brain. I want to get violent with my words, with my struggle, but not necessarily with my body.

  • Jimmy Hendrix

A revolutionary in so many ways, Hendrix has to be on the wall. His whole being was a fight against boundaries and imagined borders about what is ’right’ and ‘wrong’. I thought about him when I was in detention. I tried to create a kind of musical environment around me in Campsfield. It genuinely helped me so I didn’t get too depressed. It saved me from self-harm and suicide, which I saw many people try. It made me feel like I was reaching out beyond the fences. Sometimes I think it is ok to escape reality in that kind of a place. Because the reality there can feel like you are living in a nightmare.

  • The Demonstration

I don’t actually know where this scene of a demonstration is from. I don’t even know what it is about. But whenever I look at it I think ‘the fight is in the street’. Detention, for example, 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. Knowing that this picture is also of an old demonstration also makes me think about my own responsibility to carry on the baton for justice…The fight never ends. We go on.

  • Maria Callas

This picture is a reminder for me that there is power in creativity. I don’t know so much about her struggles or her causes. It’s more that she reminds me how beautiful and special human beings can be. And I guess I find something innately political in that in a way I did not before.

  • Nelson Mandela

I knew about Mandela before. But is only after experiencing something like detention – no right to a fair trial, indefinite imprisonment, racism – that I really connected with his words in a very personal way. He actually really help me understand that detention made me an expert-by-experience. He’s a kind of expert-by-experience champion in that sense. I remember reading his quote when I was in detention: “To deny any person their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” It still amazes me, having come from a ‘third world country’ to a ‘first world country’, that I only fully understood this to be true here in the UK. I knew so many good facts about the UK but I never heard about detention. Mandela’s words, his fight, mean a lot to me. He is a reminder of how change happens.

Boundary Making and the Broad Ripples of Immigration Enforcement

Image courtesy of Michael Collins

About the Author: Melanie Griffiths is a former COMPAS DPhil student and is currently an ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellow and Senior Research Associate at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol. She is leading the ‘Detention, Deportability and the Family: Migrant Men’s Negotiations of the Right to Respect for Family Life’ project, examining the family lives and Article 8 rights of men at risk of removal or deportation.

This article originally appeared on the blog of COMPAS: the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS) is a Research Centre within the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography at the University of Oxford. 

Earlier this week my friend Amir and I went to a prison near Oxford to visit our mutual friend, Musa, who is serving a prison sentence of a few months for handling stolen goods. It’s a low security, small prison and, according to Musa, as prisons go it’s not that bad. But this prison is unusual. This prison only incarcerates foreigners, meaning that its social and legal functions go beyond ‘simply’ punishing and rehabilitating offenders.

The realisation that something special is going on begins during the long process of entering the prison for a visit. Standing outside the gates with the friends and families, the diversity of languages and passports on show are striking. Once inside, there is a heavy air of dread hanging over the visits hall, despite most of the men’s short sentences and light offences. The threat of deportation is ever present, because prisons like this one operate through a dual logic of criminal justice and migration management.

Disentanglement

The process of forcibly removing someone like Musa from the country first requires his social mortification. Despite political promises to increase deportation rates (most recently made in the USA, by President-elect Trump), expelling inhabitants, even those with criminal records, is a complicated business. Lengthy legal processes of disentanglement and Othering are often required to make them legitimately deportable. Contrary to the seemingly straightforward indication of alterity presented by labels such as ‘foreign criminal’, ‘immigration detainee’ or ‘illegal immigrant’, in many cases people like Musa are socially embedded, long-term residents, who may even have family members (including British ones) in the country, giving them grounds to claim to belong.
Foreign national prisons – and the Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) that offenders move onto after completing their sentences – are spaces where this messy business of boundary-making occurs: where attempts are made to separate citizen from non-citizen, the ‘good’ migrant from the ‘bad’, the deportable from those who can successfully assert a claim to belong.

Musa is still in this process of disentanglement. Although he is clinging onto the fast approaching end of his prison sentence, he knows that that might not be the end. Musa claimed refugee protection in the UK well over a decade ago and now has indefinite leave to remain, as well as a home, long-term partner and friends in Oxford. However, he also has a deportation order as a result of being branded a persistent offender. As Musa explains it, on the day his sentence ends – and not before – he will discover whether he returns to Oxford as a reformed local, or is transferred to an IRC as a foreign criminal. He is resigned to this last minute revelation, finding it impossible to predict or make sense of people’s trajectories through the migration system.

A social phenomenon

The process of forced removal works by first individuating a person; attempting to separate them from their private and family life in the UK. And yet immigration enforcement is a social phenomenon, with the boundaries of IRCs extending far beyond the incarcerated individual. In the UK, 32,000 people lose their liberty to immigration detention each year, with many more living with the threat and/or memory of such experience. If we also consider the friends, families, communities and workplaces in the UK and beyond that are indirectly affected by someone’s detention, then we see that immigration enforcement is part of an enormous number of people’s ‘social universe’, even if they are never themselves detained.

For asylum seekers and other precarious migrants, the spectre of immigration detention is a disciplining force, reminding them of their own vulnerability and encouraging docility and compliance. But immigration enforcement not only harms non-citizens. Indirectly, it affects the hundreds of thousands of Brits who are connected to ‘detainable’ people by friendship, love or blood, a topic I am researching. Shockingly, as a result of the ongoing degradation of the rights of dual- and naturalised-citizens, immigration enforcement also directly threatens a growing number of British citizens.

The conditionality of neo-citizens

The line dividing foreigners from citizens is imagined to be clear and absolute, but in reality is blurry and requires constant (re)iteration. It is also moving and increasingly, when Amir and I visit friends in foreign national prisons or detained at Oxfordshire’s IRC Campsfield House, Amir is reminded of his own precarity through the experiences of his less fortunate co-ethnics.

Amir is a refugee and although he now has British citizenship, developments such as increased rates of depriving dual and naturalised Brits of their citizenship, means that he remains precarious despite naturalising. In today’s Britain, Amir is indelibly Other, despite the identical British passports that we use as our IDs on these visits.
Campsfield House is only six miles away from COMPAS, and yet such sites, and indeed the very practice of immigration detention, remains peculiarly out of sight. Attempting to raise awareness, the Detention Forum’s online initiative #Unlocked16, undertakes an annual two month-long virtual ‘tour’ of the UK’s detention estate. Now in its third year, this social media project ‘visits’ every site of immigration detention in the UK, including Campsfield this week and prisons previously. Tweets, blog posts and an interactive weekly Twitter-based Q&A with someone currently detained, help shine a spotlight on immigration detention.

#Unlocked16

This year, #Unlocked16’s theme is ‘Friends and Family’, acknowledging that in addition to people actually detained, immigration detention affects those like Amir and the families we waited with at that prison. Fundamentally, as Musa and Amir show us, immigration enforcement is a phenomenon that goes beyond the detained individual and traditional IRC sites, and that is entering new places and encompassing new groups. This is a trend some years in the making but that is accelerating with policies that lengthen and entrench the precariousness of non-citizens (and increasingly also of new and dual-citizens), and that multiply the spaces in which immigration checks and exclusions occur.

Given the centrality of migration to the UK’s recent EU referendum and the pledges by President-elect Trump to deport millions of people from the USA, we can be certain that immigration enforcement will remain high on political agendas worldwide. We urgently need to debate the role of immigration detention in boundary making and I’d urge you, whether or not you have (yet) been touched by the practice, to explore and participate in #Unlocked16.

Week 6: #Unlocked16 visits Campsfield House

This week, Unlocking Detention shone a spotlight on Campsfield House detention centre in Kidlington, a village 7 miles from Oxford. Up to 282 men are locked up there.  Campsfield House was originally a young offender’s institution and became an immigration detention centre in 1993.

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The first piece published this week was a powerful but devastating read, and is the one of the most engaged-with pieces we’ve had so far.  Mishka was detained along with his twin, with terrible consequences.

I am a twin. We are identical – he has long hair, but no beard. We came here together. We were young in our twenties when we came to the UK. We were always very, very close. We have a twin connection in our minds. I don’t feel physical pain when someone hit him on the other side of the world, but I feel it on an emotional level.
When we came to the UK, we only had each other. We lived in the same room. We went to the same university. We had the same part-time jobs. We always used to talk to each other. We always talked about the situation; why we came, what is happening back home because of our decision coming to save our lives, what we should do next.
We spoke a lot together about applying for asylum, but we were scared. The government back home tortured my mother because we left. And they told her we must never speak about what is happening in my country.
Home Office picked us up together from our home. They specifically came for us. They asked the landlady: “Are the twins in?”
It was just the two of us in the Tascor van. We thought that we are being sent to get killed. We thought we going to be deported back to our mother’s torturers.

Read Mishka’s piece here

The second piece of Campsfield week was by Liz Peretz of the Campaign to Close Campsfield. Liz wrote of the failures of healthcare in detention, and the complicated mechanisms of its operation that make campaigning for change such a complicated business!

Read “Healthcare: a labyrinthine system. A Campsfield case study.”

New members of the Detention Forum, Liberty, got stuck into Unlocking Detention with a great piece in the Huffington Post.  Liberty director Martha Spurrier wrote that shining a light on indefinite detention is more important than ever.

Read Liberty’s #Unlocked16 article here

And it didn’t end there!  In a vital article, Melanie Griffiths (an ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellow and Senior Research Associate at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol) wrote for the blog of the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS), at the University of Oxford.

Foreign national prisons – and the Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) that offenders move onto after completing their sentences – are spaces where this messy business of boundary-making occurs: where attempts are made to separate citizen from non-citizen, the ‘good’ migrant from the ‘bad’, the deportable from those who can successfully assert a claim to belong…
Campsfield House is only six miles away from COMPAS, and yet such sites, and indeed the very practice of immigration detention, remains peculiarly out of sight. Attempting to raise awareness, the Detention Forum’s online initiative #Unlocked16, undertakes an annual two month-long virtual ‘tour’ of the UK’s detention estate. Now in its third year, this social media project ‘visits’ every site of immigration detention in the UK, including Campsfield this week and prisons previously. Tweets, blog posts and an interactive weekly Twitter-based Q&A with someone currently detained, help shine a spotlight on immigration detention.
This year, #Unlocked16’s theme is ‘Friends and Family’, acknowledging that in addition to people actually detained, immigration detention affects those like Amir and the families we waited with at that prison. Fundamentally, as Musa and Amir show us, immigration enforcement is a phenomenon that goes beyond the detained individual and traditional IRC sites, and that is entering new places and encompassing new groups. This is a trend some years in the making but that is accelerating with policies that lengthen and entrench the precariousness of non-citizens (and increasingly also of new and dual-citizens), and that multiply the spaces in which immigration checks and exclusions occur.

Read Melanie’s article here

This week, the live Q and A with someone detained was actually with two people, Christopher and Jose, two friends detained in Campsfield House.  In this far-ranging interview, we learned about life in Campsfield House, the impact of detention on people’s health, spirit and relationships, and what people experiencing this brutal policy first-hand, think it’s all about.

Read the full Q and A here

We started Unlocking Detention with an article about the project in Italian, and this week the project has been shared all the way across the world in Australia!

And Right to Remain have been taking Unlocking Detention on tour… not quite as far flung as Australia, but Manchester, Cambridge, Essex and Golders Green have pretty exciting in themselves! Thanks to Detention Action, René Cassin, Manchester Migrant Solidarity and Volunteer Action for Peace for being part of this non-stop road trip.

Live Q&A with Christopher and Jose, both detained in Campsfield

This week Unlocking Detention has been ‘visiting’ Campsfield detention centre, run by Mitie, the largest single private provider of detention services to the Home Office. (In a first for our regular live Q&As) on Friday afternoon, Ben from Detention Action conducted a live Twitter Q&A with two friends currently detained in Campsfield – Christopher and Jose. You can recap the whole interview below:

Healthcare: a labyrinthine system. A Campsfield case study

Image courtesy of Campaign to Close Campsfield

By Liz Peretz, Campaign to Close Campsfield
Trigger warning: self-harm, suicide

People held in immigration detention centres are among the most vulnerable people in our society. Many detainees have suffered torture or ill treatment, have significant and chronic health problems, or have been detained for prolonged periods of time without any prospect of removal. Furthermore, they are powerless and may fear that if they make a complaint there will be repercussions.
It is now widely accepted that detention itself damages health, and causes mental ill-health, which gets worse the longer a detainee is held.

A legal requirement to provide healthcare

While detention centres like Campsfield ‘House’ continue to exist, people locked up in them are entitled under law, secondary legislation and guidance to healthcare which should be of the same standard as that enjoyed by the rest of the population in the UK, and which should take account of their special needs.
Broadly speaking, our government is required by law to keep out of detention people who have been tortured, or are pregnant, or are in other ways particularly vulnerable.*  The government is required to seek the advice and assessment of medical practitioners and to follow it.  The government is still supposed to act on the principle of a presumption of liberty in all cases (which arguably it clearly does not). If, however, a person is locked up, then our government has a duty of care towards him or her – and that includes medical assessment, treatment, and continuity of care.  According to the government’s own inquiry, the Shaw Review, as well as a number of reports by other organisations such as Medical Justice, health care needs to improve, especially as all immigration detainees are particularly vulnerable group and many have high mental and physical health needs.

A history of problems in healthcare at Campsfield

Yet ever since Campsfield was opened, 23 years ago this month, there have been reports of healthcare shortcomings or failures.
Bill MacKeith of the Campaign to Close Campsfield says:

“Problems reported to us have included:

  • poor care (detainees used to call the doctor ‘Dr Paracetamol’ because that was the extent of prescription on offer)
  • lack of confidentiality (consultations not held in private)
  • lack of access to prescribed hospital treatment
  • withholding medicine for chronic conditions such as diabetes, HIV or pain (‘you can come and get it from the health centre when you need it – no you can’t have a supply to keep’)
  • lack of continuity of care (for example, medical notes not following an individual, and not being sent on when they are moved). If the medical notes are not available, this means that treatment may in effect be denied.

Two young men have taken their own life while imprisoned in Campfield, an indictment of the health ‘care’ in itself: on 27 June 2005, Ramazan Kimluca, 18, a Kurdish asylum seeker, hanged himself, and on 2 August 2011 Ianos Dragutan, 31, from Moldova, hanged himself in a shower at Campsfield.
On 18 October 2013, Farid Pardiaz, who according to a psychiatric report was expressing a depressive episode at the time, set fire to B Block in Campsfield. His requests to see a doctor in the days leading up to his desperate act were refused.”

There should be a fail-safe method of keeping out of detention people who fall into the ‘vulnerable’ groups proscribed under law and guidance. However, a Campsfield, the necessary assessment by a medical practitioner rarely takes place. Even when a medical practitioner makes a clear assessment that a person should be released, and forwards this to the Home Office, the responsible Home Office Immigration Enforcement case worker rarely accepts it. This is especially true for torture victims.

Responsibility passes to the National Health Service

In 2012, visitors and campaigners heard that healthcare was going to be the responsibility of NHS England, not the Home Office, and that existing contracts between individual detention centres and private healthcare providers would be phased out. Visitors and campaigners hoped that, finally, the responsibilities laid out in law and guidance might be honoured a little better.  Campsfield’s due date for the change was 2015.  There has been no improvement.  What has happened since then is almost certainly worse than what happened before.  Negligent practices have continued. Those responsible, NHS England, the commissioners, are also responsible for offender health and do not seem to appreciate that people held in Campsfield are not criminals, but people held for the administrative convenience of the Home Office. Detainees are routinely handcuffed when taken for medical appointments.
Campsfield has a ‘stakeholders’ meeting twice a year, convened by MITIE which runs the centre, to which several voluntary organisations are invited.  Healthcare has been a standing item of complaint. Sometimes, only, a representative of NHS England attends, but the same representative has refused to meet local representatives and advocates separately.

A labyrinthine system

An ad hoc national group of campaigners and visitors is now inquiring into health care in detention centres. What they are finding is a labyrinthine system, with partnership agreements between government departments which lead to local or regional contracts with private health providers in many cases.  In Campsfield the private health care provider is Care UK.  This is part of Bridgepoint Capital, a company interested in making a profit and paying as little tax as it can.
At Campsfield, Care UK holds a five-year contract with the NHS England southern regional office.  This contract is based on a ‘baseline assessment of need’ in the detainee population carried out in 2014 by a private consultancy called Community Innovations Enterprise (CIE) and authored by Dr Jon Bashford, Sherife Hasan and Professor Lord Patel of Bradford with NHS England. The ‘baseline assessment’ forms the basis of guidelines and key performance indicators (KPIs) on which Care UK has to report to a named officer in NHS England South.
This may all sound a long way from detainees’ health and wellbeing.  But unless campaigners engage with this tangle of bureaucracy and hold the ‘commissioners’ (NHS England, Public Health England, Home Office Immigration and Enforcement) and ‘providers’ (such as Care UK) to account, things won’t improve. All parties will hide behind ‘contracts’ and ‘agreements’.

The commercial contracts fail to address major health issues

The base line assessment of detainee needs for healthcare, the summary contract, and the KPIs of that contract are all far from what any detainee or any visitor would say were the main health needs of people in detention centres. There are indicators for obesity, learning difficulties, alcohol and drug cessation, but no timescale for getting torture victims or other vulnerable people swiftly medically assessed and given back their liberty; no performance indicator on access to existing medicine; on swift treatment when needed outside the detention centre, on not handcuffing detainees being taken to outside appointments; nothing about the medical records that often go missing, or on continuity of care; no reassessment requirement (even though it is widely accepted that continued detention is very bad for people’s mental health).
And – also worrying – there do not appear to be clear procedures in place at Campsfield for MITIE management to cooperate with Care UK management. Yet at all points healthcare depends on such co-operation. For example, transport, escort, arrangements for hospital appointments, good provision of medication and handling of medical notes, handling the healthcare needs of people kept in ‘solitary’ – all require co-operation between the two contractors. Surely this should be a priority performance indicator for both MITIE and Care UK?

Holding authority to account

In June, NHS England and Care UK presented a report to the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee of Oxfordshire County Council, which has a duty to scrutinize health service provision in the county ).  This body is not known for criticising local health bodies when they make reports, but in this case the chair asked pointedly for ‘some data’ so her committee could see what was really going on. Three months later she was presented with data on suicides in prisons – and told ‘no other data is available’.  (Attempted suicides and self-harm in immigration detention centres are common and indeed reported on regularly by the Home Office.) We will continue to press for close scrutiny by the councillors charged with providing it in Oxfordshire, and hope others elsewhere in the country will press their local authorities in the same way.


* Groups listed as unsuitable for detention except in very exceptional circumstances are: unaccompanied minors; families with a minor under the age of 18; the elderly; pregnant women; those suffering from serious medical conditions ‘if their conditions cannot be satisfactorily managed within detention’; those suffering from serious mental illness ‘if their conditions cannot be satisfactorily managed within detention’; those with independent evidence of a history of torture; persons with serious disabilities; persons identified as victims of trafficking.

Experience of many organisations such as Medical Justice, BID, Red Cross, is that people in these categories are detained very frequently and their stories/conditions are denied.  Very exceptional circumstances are never defined and shrouded in a mystery of inconsistency.  Medical examinations (physical and mental) are often not made in appropriate way, by a qualified person, according to the ‘rules’, or even do not happen at all or too late.

The Campaign to Close Campsfield makes occasional posts on health care in detention.  See: https://closecampsfield.wordpress.com/healthcare-in-campsfield/

Unlocking Detention visits Campsfield House

Now over half-way through Unlocking Detention 2015, last week we virtually visited Campsfield House detention centre in Kidlington, near Oxford.

Campsfield was originally a young offenders’ institute but opened as a detention centre in 1993.  It was the first detention centre opened in the UK, and originally held both men and women.

Asylum Welcome, the local visitor’s group to Campsfield, tweeted about their support session during the week:

and we heard music made in Campsfield through Music in Detention’s project:

We were spoilt for choice with excellent articles this week.  First up was a piece by a visitor to Campsfield, who described how staff were friendly and the people he visited often described Campsfield as one of the ‘better’ detention centres.  Despite this, the visitor is alarmed by how staff at the centre don’t seem to question the function of detention, of depriving someone of their liberty.

The article also described, viscerally and movingly, the deterioration of one man, Adam, over time detained in Campsfield:

When we first met, Adam, a highly articulate intelligent man who spoke very good English, was humorous, friendly, chatty and participating in many of the activities at the Centre as well as patiently explaining basic Arabic to me. He was also generously providing me with an education in diaspora authors from his own country who had settled in exile and whose work frequently dealt with the most difficult of experiences.

Over the few months Adam was detained the deterioration in his mental state was alarming but sadly not untypical. When he first came to Campsfield House he would wake at 7.30am, get up for breakfast, then take English and computing classes in the morning and early afternoon and participate in football games in the later afternoon. He was praying, as was his custom, five times a day.

After three months in Campsfield House his condition was very different. He woke up at around the same time but didn’t get out of bed until nearly noon. He would then sit outside thinking for an hour or so until lunch, for which he had little appetite. He then spent many hours after lunch sitting outside, watching football if people were playing, but not playing himself. He would often sit like this until dinner.

After dinner he would occasionally watch football on television. He would go to his room when Campsfield shut down for the night at 11pm, but didn’t get to sleep until 3 or 4 am. He frequently had bad dreams which disturbed the little sleep he did get. Much of the time he spent thinking about his situation in Campsfield House and also thinking about his home country. He thought a lot about his family, all of whom – mother, father, sisters, brothers – were in a refugee camp.

While in detention, he heard that his mother was seriously ill following a stroke. He said he often felt hopeless and prayed much less frequently, some days not praying at all. Although prohibited by his religion he sometimes wished he wasn’t alive and thought of taking his life. He also started experiencing pains around his sternum and rib cage and thought maybe it was God’s will he should die.

Melanie Griffiths, trustee of Asylum Welcome, wrote about the charity’s experiences of Campsfield, including supporting Hassan, from Iraq.  Hassan had been detained and tortured by authorities in Iraq, and had fled to the UK to seek sanctuary.  Here in the UK, he was detained, despite the fact survivors of torture should not be detained unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Hassan’s detention stretched longer and longer. As the weeks started adding up, Hassan found detention increasingly hard and his health started to deteriorate. His friends became worried and told us that Hassan was no longer sleeping. The terrible pain and nightmares kept him up every night and haunted him during the day. With Hassan’s permission, we informed the Campsfield authorities and his solicitor of his worsening condition

After several months, the Home Office finally released Hassan. But the relief was short lived and just a few weeks later Hassan went through the trauma of being picked up and deprived of his liberty all over again. This time he was told that there was no doubt about the outcome; he would definitely be forcibly returned to Iraq. Hassan suffered greatly during this second bout of detention, struggling with both the experience of being incarcerated and of living under the constant fear of removal.

After two long and extremely difficult months in detention, Hassan was released once again. Last time we spoke to him, he was still in the UK and living in the community. He was, however, exhausted and traumatised by his experience in the UK and very confused about what was happening to him.

The article calls  on the Home Office to follow its own policy on detention, a prospect some of the #Unlocked15 followers felt was unfortunately not on the cards:

https://twitter.com/Thestubbseffect/status/662216943672365056

Many of the people we’ve heard from during Unlocking Detention, especially people who have been detained and visitors to detention, have stressed that the indefinite nature of detention is in itself harmful.

We got a fascinating insight into the first few hours and days of arriving at Campsfield, thanks to William who was detained there – the moment he arrived in the UK – for four days before being transferred to another centre where he was held for two months.  William has now been granted leave to remain.

It was one-down one-up and so I climbed up to one top-decker and the Brazilian did the same on the other bunk. My bed was ‘Bed D’. The Brazilian was in ‘Bed A’. The mattress was small and covered in plastic. I had a sleepless night that night. No winks. I couldn’t catch anything. I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t know where I was heading or what was coming. I never thought I’d end up in somewhere like this when I claimed asylum in the UK. I felt like someone had plunged me into the middle of mystery. I felt depressed like never before.

We also heard about the important victory in March this year, when a strong local campaign and legal challenge stopped plans to expand Campsfield to more than double its size.

Coming in a year which has seen the publication of a powerful parliamentary report on Immigration Detention, the first full debate in parliament on the subject, the biggest ever protests by detainees, the biggest ever demonstrations against detention called by Movement For Justice and Women For Refugee Women, the outlawing of the fast track asylum process, and the closure of Haslar and Dover detention centres, the Stop Campsfield Expansion victory is worth celebrating.

What a week! What a year!

Exceptional circumstances? Detention at Campsfield House

Campsfield | Unlocked19

Image courtesy of Campaign to Close Campsfield

This piece was written by Melanie Griffiths, a trustee at Asylum Welcome.  Asylum Welcome are a long-standing Oxford charity supporting men detained at Campsfield House. She is also a researcher based at the University of Bristol.

Asylum Welcome is a small charity in Oxford with a wealth of experiencing supporting people in immigration detention. We have our roots in a community-led movement that started in 1991 to help refugee children and their families. Two years later, when people started being detained under immigration powers at Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, local people again came together, this time in order to support people held or recently released from the detention centre. In response to the increasing need, Asylum Welcome and Detainee Support was established and we have been supporting people detained at Campsfield House ever since.

We support hundreds of men at Campsfield each year and it is not at all unusual for our volunteer visitors to meet someone who is vulnerable, for one reason or another. We see men who have mental or physical health problems. We have supported men who are in their later years and we have also supported very young men, some still in their teens. Indeed, occasionally we meet lone young men who are later age-assessed as being under 18, and therefore who should never, legally, have been in detention at all. In his last report, the Chief Inspector of Prisons said that three children were detained by “mistake” at Campsfield between 2012 and 2013. One boy, who was just 16 years old, was detained without his family for 62 days.

Such people are detained in the UK despite the fact that the Home Office has policies to protect vulnerable people from the hardships of immigration detention. On top of the supposed general presumption in favour of release, that should apply to everyone, there are certain specified groups that should only be detained under very exceptional circumstances. These include families with children, unaccompanied minors under the age of 18, the elderly, pregnant women, people with serious medical conditions, disabilities or mental illness, and victims of trafficking and torture. Although – and quite controversially – since 2010, Home Office policy is that although people with serious mental illness and health conditions should not normally be detained, they still can be if it is considered that their conditions can be “satisfactorily managed within detention”.

Enduring torture

Almost all the men we support in detention talk of depression, stress, decreased appetite and insomnia. Some enter detention with existing problems, but it is important to remember that immigration detention itself, with its extraordinarily uncertain length and outcome, is highly damaging to people’s mental health and is a source of vulnerability in itself. People who are detained with existing issues may well have these worsened by being detained.

Recently we have been working with Hassan (not his real name), an Iraqi man detained at Campsfield. Hassan fled Iraq last year, travelling across Europe to reach the UK, a long and dangerous journey that involved several periods of imprisonment in European countries along the way. To his great distress, and knowing the dangers of the journey to Europe, Hassan was forced to leave his wife and child in Iraq. When he finally entered the UK, Hassan was immediately discovered and arrested, eventually being taken to Campsfield, where one of our team members met him.

Hassan’s father has been murdered in Iraq, in an incident which also saw Hassan being imprisoned and tortured by the authorities. Despite multiple operations on the wounds after his escape from torture, he still experiences severe pain in his leg and has mobility problems. This is on top of the emotional scars of the torture and of the atrocities inflicted on him and his family. Under Home Office policy, as a torture survivor, Hassan should not be detained. His physical symptoms require medical treatment and his mental health problems are exacerbated significantly by being detained. The slamming doors, bars on the windows and uniformed officers bring back terrible memories and fears.

Struggling for release

One of our volunteers started visiting Hassan in Campsfield every week, offering practical help, emotional support and credit for his phone, so he could reconnect with his family back home. Once Hassan felt safe enough to tell us about his past torture, Asylum Welcome referred his case to the medical charity Medical Justice. But rather than being released, Hassan’s detention stretched longer and longer. As the weeks started adding up, Hassan found detention increasingly hard and his health started to deteriorate. His friends become worried and told us that Hassan was no longer sleeping. The terrible pain and nightmares he was suffering kept him up every night and haunted the daytimes. With Hassan’s permission, we informed the Campsfield authorities and his solicitor of his worsening condition.

After several months, the Home Office finally released Hassan. But the relief was short lived and just a few weeks later, Hassan went through the trauma of being picked up and deprived of his liberty all over again. This time he was told that there was no doubt about the outcome, he would definitely be forcibly returned to Iraq. Hassan suffered greatly during this second bout of detention, struggling with both the experience of being incarcerated, and of living under the constant fear of removal.

After two long and extremely difficult months in detention, Hassan was released once again. Last time we spoke to him, he was still in the UK and living in the community. He was, however, exhausted and traumatised by his experience in the UK and very confused about what was happening to him. He told us that his mental health had been badly affected by the uncertainties of his immigration case and of the experience of being detained, especially given all he had already lived through and escaped in Iraq.

A growing problem?

Despite the Home Office’s own policy safeguards, we have helped numerous men like Hassan, who suffer from mental or physical problems, who self-harm and talk of suicide, or who are victims of torture. Moreover, those of us who visit people in immigration detention know the harm that indefinite, administrative incarceration does to people. We see how it makes fit young men vulnerable, and further harms those who enter detention with existing scars, trauma and mental or physical health problems. Vulnerability is a dynamic phenomenon and people’s ability to cope with their detention changes over time. Someone who enters detention relatively fit and well may be in quite a different state a few weeks later. This may be especially so when the person has previously been tortured or abused.

In just a couple of decades, immigration detention has transferred from a once emergency technology of wartime, to a normalised aspect of the UK’s growing immigration system. In 2014, more than 800 places were added onto the detention estate as the result of adding more beds to several existing detention centres, and redesignating the 595 bed prison HMP The Verne, as an Immigration Removal Centres. The expansionist trend is close to home for us as the Home Office has been intending to drastically expand Campsfield House, to make it one of the biggest detention centres in Europe.

However, the Home Office plans for Campsfield have been met by a dedicated campaign by Asylum Welcome and other concerned local organisations and individuals. Together we formed the coalition, Stop Campsfield Expansion, and sought the advice of lawyers, who found several issues of legal concern in the planning application. As a result, the expansion application was withdrawn.

Rethinking ‘vulnerability’

The Home Office has suspended its expansion plans for Campsfield for now, but we are concerned that detention across the country is set to remain on its trajectory of increasing each year. And as the number and range of people detained ever-expands, so we can expect more and more ill, vulnerable and traumatised people to be incarcerated.

In the face of this, we will continue to support all those affected by detention at Campsfield, whilst also advocating for community-based alternatives to detention to be developed, and for a time limit on detention be introduced. Indeed, in our briefing for the Immigration Bill 2015, we called for the Bill to include restrictions on the length of time that a person can be held in detention. We support the Detention Forum’s report Rethinking ‘Vulnerability’ in Detention: a Crisis of Harm and echo its findings that we need to move away from understanding vulnerability to be a static, ‘category based’ phenomenon, towards seeing it as a dynamic condition that is the result from multiple factors and that changes over time.

Fundamentally, we will continue to call for immigration detention to be employed strictly in line with the Home Office’s own policy. In other words, only when absolutely necessary, for the shortest periods possible, and never when the individual is – or becomes – vulnerable.

Three Scenes from Campsfield IRC

This piece was written for Unlocking Detention by William, from the Freed Voices group. William was detained in Campsfield Immigration Removal Centre for four days before he was transferred to another detention centre, where he was incarcerated for a further two months. He was released earlier this year following Detention Action’s litigation against the Detained Fast Track and was subsequently given leave to remain.

Scene I

I was detained the day I arrived in the UK. I landed at 8am, we left for Campsfield at around 10.40pm, and I arrived there around midnight. I was put into a van with four other guys – one was Brazilian, one from Chad, one from Albania, one from Saudi Arabia. We were transported like criminals. The van drove very fast. The doors were locked. It was very dark. There were cameras on the walls. When we arrived at Campsfield, I was taken straight to my cell along with the Brazilian. He couldn’t speak any English. I looked at the Brazilian as we stood in the doorway but he said nothing. We couldn’t speak but, at that moment, he was my best friend in the whole world.

There were two other guys in the cell who were asleep already. They didn’t move. The room was tiny. It felt very congested. It felt like it was meant for only one person but four people were being crammed up in it. There was a window. Someone had been smoking. I could smell it mixed up with the smell of people who had been there a long time. I walked over to try and open it but it was stuck.

When we had arrived they had given us each a key and a padlock. This was for the individual locker in the room. I put the clothes I had with me inside. They had also given me toothpaste and a toothbrush. I didn’t have anything else. They took my phone off me when I came in. The room was dark. We used the light from the corridor to guide us.

It was one-down one-up and so I climbed up to one top-decker and the Brazilian did the same on the other bunk. My bed was ‘Bed D’. The Brazilian was in ‘Bed A’. The mattress was small and covered in plastic. I had a sleepless night that night. No winks. I couldn’t catch anything. I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t know where I was heading or what was coming. I never thought I’d end up in somewhere like this when I claimed asylum in the UK. I felt like someone had plunged me into the middle of mystery. I felt depressed like never before.

Scene II

I was coming from my induction when I first met James. The induction had not been much use. They told us about meal-times and the facilities but nothing about why I was there or how long I would be locked up. James was my real induction.

I was heading back to my room, walking down the corridor. I was still very stressed, very upset and shaken. I was scared to talk to other people or look them in the eye. And everyone I had seen since arriving in the UK was white – white and aggressive. James was actually the first black person I saw. I felt a little at home! He came over to me. He was very bald and soft. He greeted me. He asked me where I was from and how long I’d been at Campsfield. He asked me how long I’d stayed in the UK. He asked if I’d been in contact with my family back home. I told him they had taken my phone. He offered me his and told me to call them. He tried to calm me down. He could see in my face I was not fine.

He told me how to access legal aid. He was the one that told me about the Rule 35 format, none of the officers had mentioned it to me. I asked him when I would be free from here. He said he couldn’t tell me that. He said that no-one knew that. He told me that if I needed to know anything else I should ask him and he would try his best to help.

We spoke for about thirty minutes in that corridor. He cancelled his gym session. He encouraged me. He was heart-mending. He left me with some belief, some courage. I felt like someone was listening to me. I never got that feeling from the Home Office.

Scene III

There was one guy in Campsfield I will never forget. I saw him when I went to welfare. I was going there because I could not sleep. I was in Campsfield for four days and I don’t think I really closed my eyes once.

We were both waiting in the queue. He said he had been detained for 11 months. He said he was thinking of withdrawing his case. He looked completely devastated. He looked hopeless. He had uncontrollable hair. His face was very, very tired and very pale. He looked like someone in mourning, grieving over something. He showed me his leg. It had a huge scar across it. He told me he had lost his son in the same war he had got the scar. He said that since he had been in detention he had lost touch with the rest of his family. He felt desperate. His speech was angry and broken. He said he trusted no-one, nothing.

And then it hit me. Am I going to spend the same amount of time here? Am I going to turn into something like this?

That was the first and last time I spoke to him. I never saw him again. Every now and again I think about him. I think about lots of guys I met in detention. I can picture their faces. I have a gallery of faces in my head. There are certain things that trigger different faces. Whenever I look at my SIM card, for example, I think about the guy that gave it to me in detention. When I look over my Home Office paper, my mind always goes back to Campsfield and some of the people I was with when I first received them. I have one jumper that one guy gave me because it was cold. Whenever I wear it I am with him.

Stop Campsfield Expansion: a victory worth celebrating

This blog post was written by Bill MacKeith for Unlocking Detention.  Bill is a founding member of the Campaign to Close Campsfield.

This month marks the 22nd anniversary of the opening of Campsfield detention centre, an occasion that will marked on 28th November by something like the 248th demonstration calling for closure of a place where over the years over 30,000 people have been imprisoned. This might be depressing, were it not for a great victory this year, when a wide coalition saw off the government’s plan to more than double the size of the immigration detention centre 6 miles north of Oxford.

A planning application for new building to increase the number of beds from 274 to 580 was submitted to Cherwell District Council in late 2014.

A local and national coalition was swiftly assembled.  The local Stop Campsfield Expansion group was set up by the Campaign to Close Campsfield and Oxford’s Asylum Welcome and a joint statement signed by 21 local organisations.   At a national level, opposition was expressed through the Detention Forum and its members, who lodged objections to the plan, and launched a call for a halt to the increase in immigration detention.

At public meeting organised by Close Campsfield in Kidlington, which neighbours Campsfield, all four local parliamentary candidates present, including the sitting Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood, stated their opposition to the application on human rights grounds.

Street stalls, door to door leafleting of thousands of houses, and lobbies of councillors helped crystallise local opposition. Local and student press coverage was substantial.

Oxford University Amnesty International group was already organising a letter calling for the closure of Campsfield; this was amended to include opposition to the expansion, and the letter, signed by 69 heads of college and senior academics, was launched by Helena Kennedy QC in November.

By the time the application was coming up to be considered by Cherwell Planning Committee,  all three local parish councils had come out against, and over 65 objections from individuals and local and national organisations had been lodged on the council’s website.

Stop Campsfield Expansion obtained bro bono advice from law firms Day Lewis and Landmark Chambers. A decisive stage was reached at the planning committee meeting on 19 February. Planning and legal officers advised approval of the application, but councillors received a letter from Landmark Chambers arguing that the advice was flawed and open to challenge: the government had failed to prove overriding special need to build for more detention places in the Green Belt. The councillors decided to send questions to the government and to seek further legal advice. Two weeks later, on 12 March, government agents CGMS Consultants wrote to the Council withdrawing the application.

Coming in a year which has seen the publication of a powerful parliamentary report on Immigration Detention, the first full debate in parliament on the subject, the biggest ever protests by detainees, the biggest ever demonstrations against detention called by Movement For Justice and Women For Refugee Women, the outlawing of the fast track asylum process, and the closure of Haslar and Dover detention centres, the Stop Campsfield Expansion victory is worth celebrating.