Members of Oxford University’s Amnesty International (OUAI) group signed an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for the release of all detainees and the cancellation of expansion plans at Campsfield House detention centre. The letter has also been signed by nine heads of Oxford Colleges and sixty one senior academics.
Signatories of the letter include Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at St Peter’s College, and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Barrister and Principal of Mansfield College.
They joined members of OUAI, Oxford Migrant Solidarity, and the ‘Close Campsfield’ campaign for a demonstration held in Radcliffe Square. Campaigners at the demonstration hung a large banner reading “David Cameron, Close Campsfield down!”
The letter began, “Dear Prime Minister, As current and former senior members of Oxford University, we wish to express our concern over your government’s policy of detaining immigrants. We believe that this policy is contrary to the spirit of democracy, the Human Rights Act, and the United Nations Convention on Refugees. Immigrants should not be detained for administrative reasons alone.
“We certainly do not find it acceptable that they should be detained without trial, without time limit, without proper judicial oversight and with little chance of bail, and thus treated worse than criminals; we understand that some have been detained for many months, even years, before being released or deported.”
The letter continued, “We are greatly concerned about the government’s plans to transform Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre into a 580-bed mega- centre, making it one of the largest detention centres in Europe. Not only does the UK not need to be expanding its detention estate, but Campsfield House, which was opened over twenty years ago as a small, 180-bed centre, is an inappropriate site for such major expansion. Instead we call for a reversal of this proposed expansion.”
The letter highlighted the case of Canadian Alois Dvorzac (84), who died in hospital soon after being moved from a detention centre where he was held despite suffering from dementia, a heart problem and diabetes, as well as that of the Nigerian asylum seeker Isa Muazu who was forcibly removed to Nigeria despite his lengthy hunger strike and being judged by doctors to be too sick to be detained or deported.
Jo Hynes, Oxford University Amnesty International President, told Cherwell, “The UK detains more migrants, for longer and with less judicial oversight than any other country in Europe, yet the facts are clear: immigration detention doesn’t act as a supposed deterrent to immigration and contravenes basic human rights.”
Commenting on the response to the Campaign to Close Campsfield, she said, “We’ve had an incredible response from both academic staff and students whilst coordinating this letter, with Oxford University Student Union also unanimously passing a motion to call for the closure of Campsfield House.”
Larry Sanders, an Oxfordshire County Councillor for the Green Party, argued, “The strength of the opposition to locking up people who have not even been charged with an offence is very heartening. There is a widespread basic sense of decency in this country. What is not heartening is the cowardice of the leaders of the main parties who are competing to outdo each other and Ukip in getting rid of traditional British defences of human rights. I am very proud that my party, the Green Party has stayed true to its values.
“The recognition that there are times when people need refuge from the oppression of their own countries is a rich result from the horrors of the Second World War. We must not send people to torture and death; we must have a fair and speedy way to look at their situations and we cannot lock them in prisons while we do this.”
Alex Marshall, a member of Oxford Migrant Solidarity, commented, “The detention of people who have committed no crime, or who have completed their sentence, for administrative convenience is an unacceptable breach of the most basic rights. The fact this is happening right under our noses, just a few miles outside Oxford puts the University to shame and I am proud that students, staff and locals have come out against it.”
Responding to the campaign, Home Office spokesman Richard Crow argued, “Immigration removal centres play an important role in our work to remove people who have no right to remain in the UK and it is right that we have adequate facilities in place… Detention is used as a last resort when people will not leave voluntarily or when there is a serious risk they will abscond from bail.”