November 29 marked the 21st anniversary of the opening of Campsfield House – one of the first centres in Britain where migrants are imprisoned indefinitely without any criminal conviction or indeed any hearing in a court of justice. Liz Peretz reports.
Around 80 people attended the event at the Campsfield gates this year, representing a huge number of groups, including Warwick and Oxford University Amnesty, Oxford Migrant Solidarity,the local Cooperative Party, the local Labour Party, the Communist Party, Coventry trades Council, Hackney Refugee and Migrant Support, Movement for Justice, and a fellow campaigner from Migreurop – an inspiring spread of citizens concerned about what is being done in our name.
Some were academics who had signed a recent letter to the prime minister deploring the system of immigration detention, and some were local people involved in the opposition to the planned expansion of Campsfield (the Home Office are seeking planning permission to double the existing bedspaces, to 580 or so, plans at Cherwell district council website.) It began with a march from the centre of Kidlington, the village (proudly the largest village in the UK) up to the centre – a distance of about 2 miles.
As the event moved around the back of the perimeter fences (now even higher than in the past, topped with razor wire, 2 deep, each one towering above us) there was a lot of sympathetic communication with quite a large group of the men in the yard in side the fences, who chanted ‘freedom’ and phoned the protesters with their stories and requests for visits.
The meeting of Barbed Wire Britain, back in the village hall where the march had started, which followed started with an inspiring speech about what was happening in Calais and in the Mediterranean and how to get involved. Migrants who want to move to the UK are being increasingly harassed; the meeting heard that the UK have put millions of pounds into building a wall around the port to police the frontier, and how important it is that UK activists join French counterparts in condemning this further brutalisation of border tactics, and continuing actively to see the Mediterranean and English Channel deaths as our problems as well as the problem of Southern Europe.
And then we received a call from inside Campsfield; a man had been badly hurt by the guards – there were people protesting in the yard – they’d called the police but they hadn’t come – could we get the word out…
So some of us returned to Campsfield, and heard the men in the yard – orderly, chanting ‘England, hear our voice’ – and made contact again to find out what had happened. About 80 men were gathered, still in shock at what had been witnessed, but determined to speak out. Their statement, which has been widely circulated, demands…:
Permission to see their friend in order to see what happened to him
Release of the (at least 3-4) people forced into solitary confinement
Punishment for the guards who beat up the detainee
End to inhuman treatment, deprivation of freedom and separation from families
We can predict what is likely to happen next; some swift removals, some movements ‘around the detention estate’, a home office disavowal that anything happened, and a move back to normal.
But there are some indications that things are changing, and that it will be less easy for the vast semi secret machine which is our immigration system to continue with the practices that wreck hundreds of thousands of asian and african lives every year. There is an all party detention inquiry in parliament which has heard some powerful evidence about what is wrong with the system; this will report in January. There is a growing movement to halt the expansion of detention – the plans for Campsfield are part of a planned 20% increase in bed spaces modelled in our view on the needs for private company profit, since the contracts are all being let to the likes of Serco and Mitie; and there is a growing movement against indefinite detention (see the detention forum’s Time4atime limit).
We may be on the verge of a much broader civil society revolt at what is being done to migrants in our name; it is a key time to get involved. See https://closecampsfield.wordpress.com/, and also https://detentionforum.wordpress.com/, http://detentionaction.org.uk/ for the latest news and how to get involved where you are. Invite speakers to your meetings