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Oxford joins campaign against reopening of “cruel and harmful” Campsfield detention centre

Following a motion passed by Student Council in its 1st Week meeting this term, the Oxford SU has joined the Coalition to Keep Campsfield Closed (CKCC). The CKCC is a campaign group calling for the government to scrap plans to reopen an immigration removal centre on the site of the former Campsfield House detention facility in Kidlington, six miles outside of Oxford.

The SU motion, proposed by Hajar Zainuddin and seconded by Juliet van Gyseghem, stipulates that in addition to becoming a named member of the CKCC, the SU will facilitate educational activity for students on the issue and publicise the campaign’s various protests and petitions. The motion also says the SU must push for the campaign’s demands to be added to the agenda of the National Student Union (NUS). 

Najar Zainuddin, the motion’s proposer, told Cherwell: “The attitude from student groups so far has been really positive and determined. As Oxford students, we have enormous collective power to drive change. Together, we need to tell the Government that immigration detention is not the answer until it listens.”

Anna-Tina Jashpara, SU VP for Charities and Community, has been assigned to support the campaign and will attend all of the CKCC meetings. She told Cherwell that the SU will launch its formal support for the campaign via social media. They plan to help promote an online petition set up by a previous Campsfield detainee, and to work with the CKCC on an open letter to the government that the campaign wants to disseminate in the coming weeks.

A CKCC spokesperson told Cherwell that they are “delighted to have the support of the Student Union”, as “Oxford students were part of the original 1993-2018 Campaign to Close Campsfield and we are pleased and grateful that this solidarity is continuing”. 

This follows an announcement from the Home Office in June that it is planning the development of a new “immigration removal centre” on the site of the old Campsfield centre. Before closing in 2018, the centre had seen a riot and several hunger strikes, one of which involved over 100 detainees. There were at least two incidents where children were accidently detained at the centre, apparently because assessments of their age had taken too long.

The centre was also criticised by an independent monitoring body after it emerged in an annual report that detainees had arrived without their possessions 150 times throughout 2017.

Juliet Van Gyseghem, the motion’s seconder, told Cherwell: “As students, we tend to forget about the wider Oxford community that exists outside the university “bubble”.  

It is essential for us to recognise that privilege comes with responsibility. Any student who claims to care about human rights should be appalled by the threat of reopening Campsfield.” 

A final inspection of the former Campsfield House in September 2018 found that 41% of detainees felt unsafe, up from 19% in 2014, although the inspection was characterised as positive overall. The Home Office’s decision to close the centre in 2018 overlapped with broader government plans to downsize detention centre provision across the UK following a 2016 report by Stephen Shaw that highlighted the link between detention and “adverse mental health outcomes”, concluding immigrant detention “ought to be reduced”. 

Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP for Abingdon and Oxford West, was campaigning against Campsfield before it closed in 2018 and gave a speech to Parliament in September 2022 in support of the current campaign.  She told Cherwell: “Immigration detention is costly, harmful to detainees, and is not an effective tool for reducing illegal migration. Instead of re-opening Campsfield House, expanding the detention state, and continuing the inhumane practice of indefinite detention, the Government should be using taxpayer money to speed up the processing of asylum claims.”

Moran is “delighted to see that Oxford has joined the CKCC”, as this “demonstrates the strength of feeling across our local community” opposed to this “cruel and wasteful proposal”. She added that “[we] fought hard for 25 years to close Campsfield House, and we are ready to fight to make sure it stays that way”.

The Oxford City Council has also issued a statement declaring that it is “unequivocally opposed to the re-opening of Campsfield House”, noting that the centre saw “hunger strikes, self-harm and even suicide before it closed”.

According to the Home Office, the new centre planned for Campsfield will combine refurbished and newly built accommodation to provide “safe, secure and fit for purpose accommodation for people in detention”. The plans are part of the Home Office’s “ongoing review of detention capacity” and are still at an early stage. The new centre might accommodate as many as 400 male detainees, higher than the 282 beds it had in 2018, and would open in late 2023 at the earliest.

A CKCC spokesperson told Cherwell that going forward they hope to “broaden and deepen support for the campaign in JCRs and MCRs”. They added that “[a]ll societies are welcome to join the [CKCC] and we encourage them to do so”. The campaign meets online on the first Tuesday of every month, has a booth at the Turl Street Art Fair on 18th February, and will also be hosting a panel discussion at University College at 5pm on 24th February. The petition to keep Campsfield closed can be signed at change.org/keepcampsfieldclosed.

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