Now over half-way through Unlocking Detention 2015, last week we virtually visited Campsfield House detention centre in Kidlington, near Oxford.

Campsfield was originally a young offenders’ institute but opened as a detention centre in 1993.  It was the first detention centre opened in the UK, and originally held both men and women.

Asylum Welcome, the local visitor’s group to Campsfield, tweeted about their support session during the week:

and we heard music made in Campsfield through Music in Detention’s project:

We were spoilt for choice with excellent articles this week.  First up was a piece by a visitor to Campsfield, who described how staff were friendly and the people he visited often described Campsfield as one of the ‘better’ detention centres.  Despite this, the visitor is alarmed by how staff at the centre don’t seem to question the function of detention, of depriving someone of their liberty.

The article also described, viscerally and movingly, the deterioration of one man, Adam, over time detained in Campsfield:

When we first met, Adam, a highly articulate intelligent man who spoke very good English, was humorous, friendly, chatty and participating in many of the activities at the Centre as well as patiently explaining basic Arabic to me. He was also generously providing me with an education in diaspora authors from his own country who had settled in exile and whose work frequently dealt with the most difficult of experiences.

Over the few months Adam was detained the deterioration in his mental state was alarming but sadly not untypical. When he first came to Campsfield House he would wake at 7.30am, get up for breakfast, then take English and computing classes in the morning and early afternoon and participate in football games in the later afternoon. He was praying, as was his custom, five times a day.

After three months in Campsfield House his condition was very different. He woke up at around the same time but didn’t get out of bed until nearly noon. He would then sit outside thinking for an hour or so until lunch, for which he had little appetite. He then spent many hours after lunch sitting outside, watching football if people were playing, but not playing himself. He would often sit like this until dinner.

After dinner he would occasionally watch football on television. He would go to his room when Campsfield shut down for the night at 11pm, but didn’t get to sleep until 3 or 4 am. He frequently had bad dreams which disturbed the little sleep he did get. Much of the time he spent thinking about his situation in Campsfield House and also thinking about his home country. He thought a lot about his family, all of whom – mother, father, sisters, brothers – were in a refugee camp.

While in detention, he heard that his mother was seriously ill following a stroke. He said he often felt hopeless and prayed much less frequently, some days not praying at all. Although prohibited by his religion he sometimes wished he wasn’t alive and thought of taking his life. He also started experiencing pains around his sternum and rib cage and thought maybe it was God’s will he should die.

Melanie Griffiths, trustee of Asylum Welcome, wrote about the charity’s experiences of Campsfield, including supporting Hassan, from Iraq.  Hassan had been detained and tortured by authorities in Iraq, and had fled to the UK to seek sanctuary.  Here in the UK, he was detained, despite the fact survivors of torture should not be detained unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Hassan’s detention stretched longer and longer. As the weeks started adding up, Hassan found detention increasingly hard and his health started to deteriorate. His friends became worried and told us that Hassan was no longer sleeping. The terrible pain and nightmares kept him up every night and haunted him during the day. With Hassan’s permission, we informed the Campsfield authorities and his solicitor of his worsening condition

After several months, the Home Office finally released Hassan. But the relief was short lived and just a few weeks later Hassan went through the trauma of being picked up and deprived of his liberty all over again. This time he was told that there was no doubt about the outcome; he would definitely be forcibly returned to Iraq. Hassan suffered greatly during this second bout of detention, struggling with both the experience of being incarcerated and of living under the constant fear of removal.

After two long and extremely difficult months in detention, Hassan was released once again. Last time we spoke to him, he was still in the UK and living in the community. He was, however, exhausted and traumatised by his experience in the UK and very confused about what was happening to him.

The article calls  on the Home Office to follow its own policy on detention, a prospect some of the #Unlocked15 followers felt was unfortunately not on the cards:

Many of the people we’ve heard from during Unlocking Detention, especially people who have been detained and visitors to detention, have stressed that the indefinite nature of detention is in itself harmful.

We got a fascinating insight into the first few hours and days of arriving at Campsfield, thanks to William who was detained there – the moment he arrived in the UK – for four days before being transferred to another centre where he was held for two months.  William has now been granted leave to remain.

It was one-down one-up and so I climbed up to one top-decker and the Brazilian did the same on the other bunk. My bed was ‘Bed D’. The Brazilian was in ‘Bed A’. The mattress was small and covered in plastic. I had a sleepless night that night. No winks. I couldn’t catch anything. I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t know where I was heading or what was coming. I never thought I’d end up in somewhere like this when I claimed asylum in the UK. I felt like someone had plunged me into the middle of mystery. I felt depressed like never before.

We also heard about the important victory in March this year, when a strong local campaign and legal challenge stopped plans to expand Campsfield to more than double its size.

Coming in a year which has seen the publication of a powerful parliamentary report on Immigration Detention, the first full debate in parliament on the subject, the biggest ever protests by detainees, the biggest ever demonstrations against detention called by Movement For Justice and Women For Refugee Women, the outlawing of the fast track asylum process, and the closure of Haslar and Dover detention centres, the Stop Campsfield Expansion victory is worth celebrating.

What a week! What a year!