Students and locals protest Campsfield reopening
Image credit: Daisy Outram

University protests Campsfield reopening

An open letter signed by over 140 academics and student bodies has been published today calling upon the Home Office to scrap plans to reopen Campsfield House Immigration Detention Centre.

The letter has been signed by figures at ten colleges, such as the Principal of Mansfield College Helen Mountfield. Examples of groups and societies which signed are STAR Oxford (Student Action for Refugees), Divest Borders Oxford, and the SU. Academic signatories included Alexander Betts, the Director of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre.

This follows local protests from the Coalition to Keep Campsfield Closed in September, responding to the announcement the Home Office was inviting prospective bidders.

The centre was set up in the early 1990s and closed in 2018, but recent plans to reopen have sparked controversy leading to today’s protests and publication of the open letter.

Today’s protest brought together members of the University of Oxford and the local public under the “Keep Campsfield Closed” coalition. Protestors held signs stating “no human is illegal” and called for “justice for asylum seekers”

Emma Jones, Communications Coordinator for Asylum Welcome, told The Oxford Student, “Oxford should be a City of Sanctuary, it is a City of Sanctuary, and Campsfield is the opposite of that”. The city’s sanctuary status preceded Oxford’s recent award of University of Sanctuary status.

She expanded the group’s reasoning, as it is “[known] that more detention means more years of danger, misery, and harm”. The protest was therefore “very important to show that local people do not want this to happen”.

Leaflets at the protest again highlighted that “residents of Oxfordshire” are “proud of Oxford’s status as a City of Sanctuary”, so are “appalled” at the plans to re-open Campsfield. It calls the proposal a “significant betrayal by a government which committed in 2016 to reducing the number of people in immigration detention”.

Also on the flyer, member of the coalition Bill MacKeith expressed that “25 years of protests by detainees and other campaigners led to the closure of Campsfield in 2018”. This determination remained in his sentiment that “people are not going to accept it reopening”.

Oxford SU’s VP for Charities and Community Anna-Tina Jashapara also told The Oxford Student that the group was there to “[launch] the open letter from the University against the re-opening of the Campsfield Detention Centre”.

Jashapara explained the SU’s involvement as “in early Hilary term students brought a motion to the student council to join the coalition”, creating incentive and a mandate to become a member and begin “working closely with the community and students to oppose this detention centre”.

The open letter began expressing “concern” at government plans to reopen in mid-2024, after being “pleased to see Campsfield House close its doors in 2018”.

It highlights “hunger strikes, self-harm, and the tragic suicides” recorded at the centre, reflecting on the broader detention system’s “immediate and long-term negative consequences on people’s medical and mental health”.

Empirical evidence that “86% of people leaving detention in 2021 were released on bail” any defence that detention is limited to use prior to removal. The UK’s issue was also underscored by the fact that it is “the only country in Europe without a statutory upper time limit on detention”.

Plans to reopen also rely on “spending £227 million”, which the letter calls out amongst “a cost-of-living crisis” and the alternative expenditure of “reducing the asylum processing backlog of over 160,000 cases”.

The academics and student representatives signing this letter repeat the Oxford University’s involvement in the open letter against the opening of Campsfield House in 1994, alongside the 2014 letter also signed by academics.

Concluding the letter was the sentiment that it is “long past time to reform our system”. The signatories join “MP Layla Moran, Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council and the Coalition to Keep Campsfield Closed” in opposing the reopening.

A petition to keep Campsfield closed remains in action, taking a stand against the “current system” which is, in the creator’s view, “incredibly expensive, remarkably inefficient and, above all, profoundly unjust”.

Image credit: Daisy Outram