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: