You cannot imprison and brutalise innocent people without expecting trouble. The more people you imprison and brutalise, the bigger the trouble you must expect. The recent horrific scenes at Harmondsworth Removal Centre, Heathrow, following the apparent suicide of yet another detainee, are a sure a sign of what's in store for Oxfordshire - if Home Office plans to greatly enlarge Campsfield Removal Centre are allowed to go ahead.
The Government started locking up foreigners at Campsfield just over 10 years ago. It was plagued by suicide-attempts, hunger strikes and mass protests - which dominated national news in 1994 and 1997. In 2002 the Government seemed at last to see reason and announced its impending closure. But now, Cherwell District Council has received a planning application from the Home Office, to expand the centre from 180 to nearly 300 places.
Places like Campsfield and Harmondsworth are in effect prisons - but they are not designed to protect you or me from anything. The people inside are teachers, nurses, office-workers... ordinary people who have not even been charged with any crime. Their imprisonment is purely to "send a clear message" (as the politicians like to put it) to the poorer and blacker members of the world's population that Britain is
a tough place where there are no easy pickings.
Britain's 10 detention and removal centres are mostly run by private security firms whose low-paid guards have little training (beyond how to "control and restrain" the inmates) and are often blatantly and violently racist -- as a Daily Mirror undercover reporter revealed (December 8th 2003). At the moment there are 20 civil actions being
taken against these companies by detainees for alleged assault. 5 of their employees were arrested for assaulting an inmate earlier this year. The centres themselves have been condemned as unsafe by the Inspector of Prisons. The companies that run them have been exposed as incompetent or worse in the shambolic and expensive trials that follow
Yet the Government, desperate to look "tough", obsessed with numbers, is trying to lock up more and more foreigners in bigger and bigger "super-centres". And a clear pattern emerges. The first of these super-centres, at Yarl's Wood Bedfordshire, exploded (almost literally!) in February 2003, following brutal mishandling by guards
of a sick woman detainee, Eunice Igbegwe. The second super-centre, at Harmondsworth had to be half-closed early on because its security guards could not cope; it was rife with reports of abuse and self-harm.
Now, just months after opening to full, 400+ capacity, this too has exploded, following the apparent suicide of one of the inmates - a young man of 31.
Harmondsworth was allegedly the "show-piece" of the new detention system. It could not cope even at half capacity. Campsfield is already overcrowded and squalid with just 180 detainees - and the government wants to cram it with another 100 or more justifiably angry, outraged men. It is not a question of when the explosion will come, but when, and how expensive it will be in lives, disruption and money.
Imprisoning and brutalising innocent, useful people without trial or time-limit, just to make a political point, should enrage everyone in this country. But even if you can excuse it, it must be clear that this policy is in deep trouble. Every so-called "centre" is a sink of suffering for its inmates and a time-bomb for its local community - which bears the brunt of the inevitable explosion.
When innocent people are treated like criminals something is bound to give. Too often, it is their own minds that give - ending in despair, self-harm and suicide. But if you push enough people hard enough even the most law-abiding of them will sometimes lash out. This time, the local community, has a chance to step in and say "no". This policy
has failed. This is *not* the time to plow blindly on. We do not want another Harmondsworth at Campsfield.
We urge all residents to protest against the Government's application to expand Campsfield by writing to or faxing Bob Duxbury, the South Area Planning Officer , Cherwell District Council, Bodicote House, Banbury OX15 4AA. Fax: 01295 270028 - citing Reference No 04/01493/GD
Bob Hughes - The Campaign to Close Campsfield.