On 29 November 1993, the first minibus full of immigration detainees arrived at Campsfield House IRC. Oxford resident Bill Mackeith, joint organiser of the Campaign to Close Campsfield, was one of twelve protestors who came to meet them. He was there, in shame and solidarity, to protest a system that (still) allows migrants (including refugees and asylum seekers) to be held without charge, time-limit or proper judicial oversight, in a network of prisons run for private profit.
A quarter of a century later, campaigners will mark the anniversary with a couple of free public events: an evening of reflection and discussion on 25 years of resistance to Campsfield on Thursday 22nd November (7pm, Oxford Town Hall), featuring testimony from an ex-detainee and a new exhibition about the campaign, and a lively protest outside Campsfield itself on Saturday 24th November (12 noon, at the main gates).
This year’s anniversary demonstration will be different as the campaign’s twenty-five year anniversary coincides with the welcome news that Campsfield is finally to close. Bill says, ‘We think soberly of all the harm done, the lives damaged or destroyed, and those lost – 18-year-old Kurd Ramazan Kamluca in June 2005 and Moldovan Ianos Dragotan in August 2011 – at Campsfield over the past twenty-five years.’
Throughout this time, detainees have protested about their conditions of imprisonment and for their release, and campaigners outside have sought to amplify their voices. There have been regular (monthly) demonstrations, rooftop protests, hunger strikes, interventions from MPs and prominent academics (that saw the expansion of Campsfield shelved in 2015) – and even a solidarity march to London.
In recent years, initiatives like Detention Unlocked, Freed Voices and the These Walls Must Fall campaign have focused public attention on the myriad of human rights abuses stemming from the current system. In 2015, an all-party parliamentary inquiry into the use of immigration detention warned of “significant mental health costs for detainees, as well as considerable financial costs to the taxpayer”, and demanded a 28 day time-limit. This report was welcomed by Amnesty International but has yet to be implemented by the government. In Oxford, campaigners have vowed to keep fighting until “barbed wire Britain” is a thing of the past.
Statement from Bill MacKeith, joint organiser, on behalf of the campaign:
‘The announcement that Campsfield is to close is long overdue. But the misery and injustice of immigration detention continues at Yarl’s Wood, Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, Brook and Tinsley, Morton Hall, and Dungavel. These too have to go. We shall work for that.’
Join campaigners on the steps of Oxford Town Hall for a photograph with the banner at 6.30pm on Thursday 22nd November.
Contact: Bill MacKeith: 01865 558145