NoBorders | 06.08.2007 11:36 | Migration
Around 10:30pm on Saturday, August 4th, a riot broke out in Campsfield House, Oxfordshire, leading to 26 migrants escaping the immigration prison. 15 have since been recaptured, while the rest are still on the run. It followed a yard protest on Tuesday night against the appalling conditions inside the detention centre, which is run by American company GEO, and the discriminatory decisions of Newport immigration court, which is used for bail hearings and appeals involving Campsfield detainees. A hunger strike was started on Wednesday but was put on hold pending a meeting with Home Office representatives on Friday. A further yard protest on Friday night was held as the meeting failed to meet the prisoners' demands. Three solidarity demos were held on Tuesday midday at Campsfield House, Lindholme (Doncaster) and the Communication House (London) [reports: 1 | 2 | 3 ].
Last week, a revolt in a detention centre in Bari, Italy, led to at least 35 migrants escaping. Three weeks ago, 69 Tamil detainees in 5 detention centres, including Campsfield, went on hunger strike against a Home Office decision to deport them back to Sri Lanka [appeal]. Many are still on hunger strike while two Sri Lankan detainees in Harmondswoth, near Heathrow, have been on hunger strike for almost a month (see also Immigration detention: Unworkable).
According to the Campaign to Close Campsfield, detainees were evacuated into the yard at around 10:30pm on Saturday after a fire in the centre's makeshift kitchen (a Portakabin where the centre's detested diet of chips is prepared). There was allegedly a risk that the large gas bottles stacked outside would explode. Then, at about 10:45, reports came in that a group of detainees were smashing through the back gate. At about 11:30, detainees were being marshalled back into their cells and locked in, while a police helicopter was circling around. No fewer than eight fire appliances were seen. Hoses were being paid out although the kitchen fire had reportedly been extinguished.
A while later a new fire broke out in one of the accommodation blocks and detainees were evacuated into the yard again. Meanwhile, another group were trying to break out but these did not succeed. About 6 police vehicles were already at the side gate, with dogs and some officers donning riot gear. There was a moment of drama when the "spacemen" approached the penned-in detainees and were pelted with mud, small stones and insults.
Around 6:30 on Sunday morning, detainees were taken back inside and were "locked down" with police lining the corridors of the centre.
A statement by detainees at Campsfield House on Tuesday read:
“Newport immigration court, which is used for bail hearings and appeals involving Campsfield detainees, is very discriminatory compared to other courts in the UK: the bail application and appeal success rate there is less than 5%. Living conditions for detainees are appalling. Campsfield is a health hazard with 70% infection with flu. Paracetomol is the only medicine made available; two weeks ago even this ran out. Campsfield was rife with scabies, but only staff were issued with gloves. Although detainees are held civil detainees, not convicted prisoners or prisoners on remand, food, toilets and showers are a lot worse than in prisons. Some detainees are being held even though they have won an appeal against deportation. Others have clearly stated that they want to go back to their country of origin but have still been waiting in Campsfield for months.”
A statement by No Borders UK noted that police have portrayed the escapees as criminals, urging members of the public to "contact us immediately should they see anyone they believe could be one of those involved." Seeking asylum, the statement added, "is not a crime and these people should not have been imprisoned. We call upon members of the public to assist these vulnerable people." The BBC had proudly reported that a local resident in Kiddlington tackled and detained one of the escapee asylum seekers who had asked him for help, while some so-called refugee support organisations urged the escapees to turn themselves over to the police. The former chairman of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants Imam Sajid, for example, was quoted saying "It is hard to be sympathetic towards anyone who breaks the law, but these men must be desperate."
Campsfield immigration prison
Campsfield House was converted into an immigration detention centre in 1993, amid a storm of protest from local residents [history]. The so-called Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) is run by GEO, the private US prison company previously known as Wackenhut, which took over from Group 4 in May 2006. The centre, surrounded by 20ft fences with razor wire on top, holds up to 200 male asylum seekers at any time. Within 6 months of its opening, six asylum seekers escaped following a rooftop protest. Regular demonstrations and pickets outside Campsfield, mainly organised by the Campaign to Close Campsfield, have since become a common occurrence.
In March this year, Campsfield witnessed another riot when detainees tried to intervene and stop a forceful 'removal' of a fellow Algerian detainee. Following the 'disturbance', Robert Whalley CB was asked by the Home Office to extend his investigation into the Harmondsworth 'disturbance' on 28-29 November, 2006, to that establishment as well. Among other things, Mr Whalley said:
“The Harmondsworth and Campsfield House disturbances were very different, both in causation and in how they unfolded. Both occurred at a time when recent population pressures, falling heavily on vulnerable fabric in a hard-pressed detention estate, were accompanied by dislocation in casework handling, especially in the case of Foreign National Prisoners, which caused a build up of latent tensions.”
“It did not take much to trigger these events. When they started, they soon escalated, despite best efforts to prevent this happening. The underlying causes are still there and, without any changes, the same thing could happen again at either establishment.”
The Home Office said that all 26 people who escaped from Campsfield immigration detention centre over the weekend were "convicted criminals, not innocent asylum seekers." A Home Office spokesperson said all of the escapees were foreign national prisoners who had completed their sentences and were being held prior to deportation.
A message from Campaign to Close Campsfield, however, gave "three little glimpses of the tragic, human reality behind [this] furore."
This afternoon, the Campaign to Close Campsfield's Bob Hughes and Carole Angier from Asylum Welcome managed to talk to three detainees in a Group4 van outside the centre. All three had been to Newport for unsuccessful bail applications (no one else had been successful that day). One of them, from Nigeria, was an actual 'foreign criminal' and had served 7 months in prison. His crime, however, was entering Britain with a false passport. According to Article 31 of the UN Convention on Refugees, this is not a crime and asylum applications should be considered regardless of the way applicants had entered the country. What is more, the man requested more than a month ago to be allowed to return to Nigeria but the authorities would neither remove him nor let him go of his own accord.
One of the alleged 'ring leaders' of the riots, who was removed from Campsfield to Colonbrook detention centre on Sunday, is apparently a very fragile Cameroonian torture survivor. His claims of torture had been dismissed by the Home Office and Removal Directions for him are set for Friday. However, Medical Justice have been called in to examine him and have verified his account of torture. They are now mounting a last-minute challenge to the deportation.
Imprisoning torture survivors is against the Home Office's own rules, let alone international law. Yet it is practised routinely by the Border and Immigration Agency (formerly the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, IND).
The unfortunate detainee had telephoned his visitor on Friday in great fear and anxiety about the unrest developing in the centre. Branding him a 'trouble maker' and moving him to Colnbrook, the immigration prison near Heathrow that all detainees dread, appears like an opportunistic ploy to impede any last-minute reprieve and penalise him.
In a third case, the partner of one of the detainees yesterday posted this comment on the Oxford Mail website. Here is what Christine Gee from Coventry had to say (typos fixed by poster):
"My partner has been held in Campsfield House for 3 months with no sign of being either released or deported. He has lived in the UK for 16 years. He has 3 children and is an electrician. We have a 3-bed semi in Coventry and I work full-time as a social worker.
If you could see that these men are kept in deplorable conditions, you would not be surprised at what has happened. My partner is a very quiet, submissive man who suffers at the hands of these security guards. He has now had his mobile phone taken off him so that he cannot ring me. The fire started in the port cabin that they use as a kitchen to cook for 200 men. There are over 100 men on hunger strike in there at the moment. My partner is ill but has had no medical help. I believe he will take his own life before long and then he will be just another statistic of the government's inability to improve the mess the immigration department have created."
one of noborders
About 20 people attended the London demo at Communications House. A photo should be posted later today. Below is the text of the leaflet distributed:
Seeking Asylum – Fleeing Imperialism
No to Deportations! Defend Asylum Seekers
SUPPORT THE CAMPSFIELD DETAINEES AND FUGITIVES
On Tuesday 31 July over 150 detainees in Campsfield immigration prison in Oxfordshire held a yard demonstration in protest at the appalling conditions inside the detention centre. This was followed by a hunger strike, which was put on hold pending a meeting with Home Office representatives. A further yard protest on Friday night was held as the meeting failed to meet the prisoners' concerns. Around 10.30pm on Saturday 4 August a revolt broke out, leading to 26 prisoners escaping. 12 have since been recaptured, while the rest are still on the run.
The No Borders Network immediately declared its full solidarity with the detainees who have managed to escape this racist prison and all those who are still subject to the regime at Campsfield and all immigration prisons everywhere. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! completely supports this stance.
The police have portrayed the escapees as criminals. Seeking asylum is not a crime. On Monday 6 August the Home Office announced that those on the run were all ‘convicted criminals’ who had served prison sentences and were awaiting deportation. This announcement was deliberately intended to turn the public against the detainees.. With an increasing number of criminal offences being created for overstaying, using false documents or working without a permit, it is easy to turn asylum seekers and refugees into criminals.
Even in the case of immigration detainees who have committed criminal offences, this should not be used to deport them, as it means that where a British person is punished by imprisonment, a ‘foreign national’ prisoner is punished twice – by imprisonment and then by deportation.
END DOUBLE PUNISHMENT! END CRIMINALISATION OF IMMIGRANTS AND ASYLUM SEEKERS! CLOSE CAMPSFIELD AND ALL DETENTION CENTRES!
Join the monthly protests at Communications House
THE 1st TUESDAY OF EVERY MONTH 1 – 2pm
CALLED BY LONDON FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM!
one of noborders
Sunday 5th August, two have since had the misfortune to be
The details released by police are as follows:
O'Neil Wilson, 29, from Jamaica, had served five years for drug offences and was described as 6ft 3ins, slim, with brown eyes and a West Indian accent.
Heardley Benjamin, 38, also from Jamaica, had served four years for drug offences, described as 6ft, thin with black short hair and brown eyes.
Ali Jabar, 28, from Iraq, was imprisoned for three years and nine months for robbery. He is 5ft 6ins, slim, with black, short hair and brown eyes.
Cuong Hung Doan, aged 26, from Vietnam, was imprisoned for three years for growing cannabis. He is 5ft 7ins, slim, with black short hair and brown eyes.