Bill MacKeith

Campsfield detention centre closed after 25 year struggle

Bill MacKeith
Campsfield detention centre closed after 25 year struggle

ON 9TH NOVEMBER 2018, the government announced that the 282-bed Campsfield House immigration removal centre near Oxford was to close. This was accompanied by a statement saying: “By next summer the Home Office will aim to reduce the immigration detention estate by almost 40% since 2015”. By Christmas Campsfield had been closed.

This closure is one outcome of a growing and many-faceted national movement against immigration detention that has put pressure on the government through:

  • Increasing attention to the voices of people detained (Detained Voices, Freed Voices), often assisted by groups such as All Africa Women’s Group, Women For Refugee Women and SOAS Detainee Support Group.

  • More and bigger demonstrations at detention centres, largely organised by Movement for Justice (http://

  • The work of the Detention Forum (, a coalition of over 35 local and national organisations. See their virtual tour of detention centres blog #Unlocked.

  • More extensive press and television coverage (e.g. Panorama on G4S abuse at Brook House and the Guardian Windrush coverage).

The all-party parliamentary inquiry and its report (2015) and subsequent committee inquiries into detention, such as that by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Members of the campaign which has led opposition to Campsfield for 25 years are of course pleased that finally this institution has shut down and 1,000-2,000 fewer people will be detained each year as a result. However, the name of our group is Campaign to Close Campsfield and End All Immigration Detention. 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 and we shall continue to work for that, alongside other campaigning groups and the shadow Home Secretary and her team.

So attention now switches to other detention centres. The campaign, These Walls Must Fall ( uk/), focuses on the cities from where people are snatched and put into detention centres (total capacity now some 2,700 plus some 300 immigration detainees in prisons). Construction of Heathrow’s third runway will involve demolishing the Harmondsworth and Colnbrook detention centres and a new-build replacement: that too must be resisted. The work of the Detention Forum and the big demos at Yarl’s Wood continue. Diane Abbott has promised Labour would close Yarl’s Wood and Brook House. There is a lot to do.

The hostile environment

What happens to people who have to survive the deliberately created cruel and hostile environment outside detention centres? This issue is the focus of further campaigning demands, including:

  • Granting asylum seekers the right to work.

  • Provision of adequate and safe accommodation for all people on release from detention.

  • An amnesty for all undocumented people.

  • An end to the deliberate impoverishment of undocumented migrants and asylum seekers (you cannot live on £37.50 a week).

  • Freedom of movement and the right to stay.

Raising awareness of deportation charter flights also remains a key element of our campaigning. On 10th December a jury at Chelmsford Crown Court (following an incredibly biased direction from the judge) found 15 people guilty of endangering the safe operation of an airport. The “Stansted 15” had stopped a Titan Airways deportation flight to West Africa. This action struck at the heart of hostile environment policies and ensured that at least 11 of the 65 people due to be forcibly deported have been able to remain in the UK - proof that their deportation was unjust in the first place.

The Stansted 15 will be sentenced in the week beginning 4th February, by which time an appeal against the verdict will have been lodged. It is important to defend the right to protest and stop the criminalisation of solidarity with migrants. Ways to support can be found on the End Deportations website (http://

Meanwhile, it is more difficult to identify and target deportation flights, as their routes are constantly changing and include bases such as RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. But forcible deportation of people to countries where their lives and liberty are at risk must remain a priority for human rights campaigning and activism.

is a founder member of the Campaign to Close Campsfield and End All Immigration Detention, a long standing Labour Party member and trade unionist.