By Robin Sivapalan
As we go to press, 14 of the 26 detainees who broke out of Campsfield detention centre in Oxfordshire are still on the run. The breakout followed all night protests and hunger strikes at the worsening conditions in the prison, the incredibly high refusal rates for bail at the Newport Immigration court and the fundamental illegality of indefinite detention of these migrants.
The press and government outrageously brand detainees “convicted foreign criminals”. And of what have they been convicted? Driving offences. Of committing the newly invented “crime” of crossing borders with falsified papers?
At the same time the government makes public boasts of the numbers of our brothers and sisters who have forcibly deported to countries where their lives are at risk.
While some media like the Oxford Mail have chosen to focus on local residents who buy into the “escaped criminals line” one BBC reporter told the Close Campsfield activists at their solidarity demonstration on Tuesday that “a good half” of the people she’d spoken to were sympathetic towards the escapees, and even wished them luck. This included people living in the houses adjoining the prison.
New Labour should be condemned for stoking up fear by the wanton criminalising of migrants which is itself an infringement of international law.
Our solidarity is with the outstanding display of courage and resistance of these men striving for their freedom — and with their friends and families — who have real cause to fear for their lives and futures. We also pay tribute to the activists of the Close Campsfield campaign who for 12 long years have persistently protested the injustice of detention, provided support for detainees and their families, and have tirelessly worked to expose the truth behind the barbed wire.
Inside this issue of Solidarity, we reproduce what, in the words of campaigner Bob Hughes’. are “three little glimpses of the tragic, human reality behind the furore over these ‘foreign convicts’ who have escaped from Campsfield”.
My partner has been held in Campsfield house for three months with no sign of being either released or deported. He has lived in the UK for 16 years he has three children and is an electrician. We have a three 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 can’t ring me. The fire started in the portocabin that they use as a kitchen to cook for 200 men. There are over 100 men on hunger strike in their 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 governments inability to improve the mess the immigration department have created. (Christine G, Coventry)
ONE of the so called “ringleaders” removed from Campsfield on Sunday is a very fragile Cameroonian torture-survivor. Imprisoning torture-survivors is against the Home Office’s own rules let alone international law; yet it is practised routinely by the Home Office. He telephoned his visitor on Friday, in great fear and anxiety about the unrest developing in the centre. His claims of torture had been dismissed by the Home Office and Removal Directions are set for Friday. However Medical Justice had been called in to examine him, have verified his account of torture, and are mounting a last-minute challenge to his removal. Branding him a troublemaker and moving him to Colnbrook (the prison near Heathrow all detainees dread) looks like an opportunistic ploy to impede any last-minute reprieve and penalise him.
A colleague and I were able to talk to the occupants of a Group 4 van. For some reason the guards did not stop us. All three had been to Newport for unsuccessful bail applications (and no-one else had been successful that day, either). One of them, from Nigeria, is an actual “foreign criminal”: he had served seven months in prison for the heinous crime of entering Britain with a false passport. This should not be a crime according to Article 31 of the UN Convention on Refugees. So again, if anyone was breaking the law here, it is the British Government. What is more, he requested more than a month ago to be allowed to return to Nigeria — but the authorities will neither remove him nor let him go of his own accord.
You would think that, if the media were genuinely concerned about safety and the the anxieties of local residents, they would tell them exactly what sort of criminals are at large. It is clearly not too difficult to find out. The fact that the gravest crime mentioned in the sensational reports was a single case of burglary suggests that none of the escapees are in fact any more terrifying than the three individuals above.
Bob Hughes (Campaign to Close Campsfield)