Many of you will have seen the news yesterday announcing the government’s plan to reopen Campsfield House as an immigration removal centre.
The announcement very much fits with the policy of treating asylum seekers as illegal immigrants that has been provided for in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 that we all fought so hard to oppose. The Home Office statement describes the facility as being for “foreign criminals and immigration offenders.”
The choice of words tells us a lot. Foreign criminals are already housed at Huntercombe prison, near Henley, and can be deported at the end of their sentence. Asylum seekers are not criminals; but under the new law anyone arriving seeking sanctuary, other than through a formal resettlement scheme, is seen as an “immigration offender”. This is despite the fact that well over 70% of asylum claims, when they are eventually heard, are now upheld, with even more being upheld on appeal. This confirms that the vast majority of asylum seekers are “genuine” by the government’s own definition. Campsfield House and Rwanda are part of a plan to make the environment ever-more-hostile and to ignore or subcontract our international legal responsibilities.
The biggest national group currently arriving across the channel are Afghans fleeing the very same conflict and persecution from which we so welcomed those who were able to make it to Kabul airport last year; 90% of Afghans who crossed the Channel last year were granted refugee status. There will be a sad irony if some family members who managed to get flown out are hosted in a local hotel (albeit for far too long) awaiting resettlement, while others who may be fleeing just as great a risk are detained at Campsfield awaiting deportation because they had to make their own way here.
Many of you saw for yourselves over many years just how damaging detention at Campsfield was for refugees and asylum seekers; the centre was the site of a teenage suicide, several hunger strikes, and ongoing protest. We mustn’t let this happen again.
Navid, our Services Director, led Asylum Welcome’s Campsfield Immigration Detention Support Service for 6 years and played a pivotal role in the campaign to close it down. In his words:
“Thinking and imagining the re-introduction of the Campsfield House has already regenerated outrage among all of us who worked so closely with detainees by providing them with information, advice and advocating positively on their behalf. So many people in Oxfordshire did so much to support detainees and campaigned strongly to put an end to Campsfield House.
Although asylum seekers and migrants at Campsfield House were benefiting from the passion and generosity of 60 AW volunteers who formed the biggest and most active visiting group to a detention centre in the UK, the level and extent of the detainees’ suffering could never be undermined, especially among those who were minors or victim of tortures, had learning difficulties or other severe mental or physical health conditions.
We worked closely with partner organisations such as Freedom from Torture, Medac, and Medical Justice, and with a group of doctors we formed a pioneering Volunteers Health Visiting Group which aimed to produce medical reports to advocate on their behalf at immigration courts. Since Campsfield closed down, legal aid and detainees’ access to legal advice has reduced massively. The government’s brutal approach of reopening Campsfield with the aim of criminalising people seeking asylum or migrants who are stuck and cannot return to their homeland, is itself criminal.”
Asylum Welcome will join with other local organisations and do whatever we can to stop the reopening happening. Yesterday we put out a statement on our website, picked up by the Oxford Mail and others. Today I have done interviews with local radio and television explaining why the decision is so wrong. But the real work needs to happen over the coming months.
We will be meeting and working with Layla Moran, the local MP, who has already spoken out strongly against the reopening, and with other politicians. We will explore what Councils can do, including the need for planning permission and other relevant powers. We will work with the many civil society groups who were so active in getting Campsfield closed in 2018.
Many of you came out to support us, and more importantly those people who we work for and with, at a range of events during Refugee Week last week. Many have also donated towards our work. Thank you for this. The need to challenge the Campsfield reopening makes this public support even more important.
We will come back to you in the coming weeks with more specific ideas and asks. In the meantime, please make your voices heard in any way you can.
Asylum Welcome recently launched a ‘A time for Healing‘ appeal during Refugee Week to help us to continue providing essential support to our most vulnerable clients. We are incredibly grateful to all our supporters who have kindly donated in response to our appeal helping us support 1,200+ people arriving from Ukraine but also many hundreds arriving to Oxfordshire from many other conflicts and countries experiencing devastating humanitarian crises. We have received an incredible response and would like to thank you all for your kindness and solidarity.
Your support will help us provide essential services to those asylum seekers and refugees we support every day. Help through our foodbank, our legal advice team, our youth projects, our education and employment programme and our Welcome Desk, now all fully functioning post-Covid and seeing a marked increase in demand.
In addition to these, we are publicly calling on the government to end the inhumane offshoring to Rwanda policy and together with many local and national civil society and refugee organisations, local authorities and MPs, we will campaign strongly against the reopening of Campsfield as an immigration removal centre. As Mark and Navid mentioned above, the need to challenge this outrageous plan makes your support even more important.
If you would like to support our work, please visit our ‘A time for Healing‘ page by clicking here and donate whatever you can today.
From everyone at Asylum Welcome, THANK YOU!