An immigration removal centre that was closed by the government four years ago amid mounting concern about conditions is set to re-open, in what critics have described as a “backward step”.
In a letter to Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran on Tuesday, immigration minister Tom Pursglove said the reopening of the centre would “support” the government’s controversial plan to ship asylum seekers to Rwanda.
He added that the re-opening of the site would also “form part of our ongoing review of both detention capacity and geographical footprint”.
The centre closed in 2018 after years of being subject to fierce criticism over concerns about the length of time people were being locked up and the high proportion of detainees taken into detention and then subsequently released.
Ms Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, who campaigned for Campsfield’s closure, described the decision to reopen the centre as a “backward step” that is “potentially dangerous” given the effect that being locked up there can have on detainees.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful. We know about the detrimental effect it has on people, many of whom have gone through torture, come from war zones, and then they’re put in this centre,” she told The Independent.
“We as a community campaigned for more than 20 years to get it closed down. It was a promise that even Theresa May made in 2014.
“It’s a clear failure of [the government’s] immigration policies. We will be doing everything we can to stop the reopening. I can’t believe we’re in this position again […] I’m sure it’s because they want to look tough on immigration when in fact it’s an admission that they’ve failed completely.”
In November 2018, the then immigration minister Caroline Nokes announced that the site, which originally opened in 1993, was to be closed as part of the then home secretary Sajid Javid’s commitment to cut the number of people detained at any given time and improve the welfare of detainees.
She said at the time that by the summer of 2019, the department would aim to reduce the immigration detention estate by almost 40 per cent since 2015.
Government data shows that in the year ending March 2022, 25,282 people had entered the detention estate – compared with 30,364 in 2014 and 24,480 in 2019. The number of people entering detention increased by 94 per cent between 2021 and 2022.
Maria Brul, campaigns and advocacy coordinator at Detention Action, said: “Over 20 years, Campsfield immigration detention centre was the site of a teenage suicide, hunger strikes and the unjust detention of thousands of people seeking asylum.
“It was closed by Mr Javid in an attempt to avoid the extreme harm that indefinite detention causes. Its reopening is a sign that Priti Patel is long out of ideas, and so is once again opting to inflict trauma and misery on more Black and Brown people.”
A “prior information notice” for the contract to manage the refurbished site is being issued on Tuesday, marking the first phase of the procurement, indicating the Home Office’s intention to go to the market within the next twelve months.
Mr Pursglove said in his letter to Mr Moran: “We intend to appoint a single supplier to deliver all services – with the exception of healthcare services which we expect to be commissioned by NHS England – including custodial, within the detained accommodation.”
He said it would comprise a “new-build living unit alongside refurbishment and remodelling of existing accommodation, meeting statutory standards”, and that it would take into account the recommendations in the Shaw review, published in 2018, which described conditions in removal centres as “unacceptable”.