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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 14:20 GMT
'Outdated' asylum centre to close
Campsfield House
Inmates have rioted and gone on hunger strike
A controversial asylum detention centre is to be closed under new plans by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Campsfield House, in Oxfordshire, which has been dogged by problems since it opened, was branded "outdated" by Mr Blunkett on Thursday.

His announcement came as part of a plan to shake-up radically laws governing asylum seekers in the UK.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Mr Blunkett said: "Campsfield is no longer appropriate in the 21st Century."

(New centres) will offer education, healthcare and legal and interpretation services

David Blunkett
Riots, fires and hunger strikes have all broken out at Campsfield since it opened in the mid-90s.

As a result of the continuing problems, Mr Blunkett said asylum applicants would be housed in "better, high standard" centres instead.

"These centres will be mandatory to applicants to stay in, and will offer education, health care and legal and interpretation services," said Mr Blunkett.

As far back as 1998 centres, like Campsfield, were criticised as being "unsafe".

The then chief inspector of prisons Sir David Ramsbotham said: "Until clear rules...are established for people held in detention and for the staff who look after them, the prospect of disturbances...will remain."

Difficulties lie in the fact that none of the "inmates" are considered prisoners, or accused of any crime.

'Utter shambles'

Sir David also said changes to the way it was to be run had to take into account detainees' status, which he said were more like "unconvicted prisoners" than "sentenced" convicts.

Run by security firm Group 4, the centre can house up to 200 asylum applicants at any one time.

Pressure group, Asylum Rights Campaign, has branded the centre's regime a "complete and utter shambles".

Last September, Mr Blunkett met about 90 people being held at Campsfield who had been on hunger strike.

He was prompted to go to the centre after a High Court ruling had decreed four Kurdish asylum seekers at a similar centre in Cambridgeshire were being held unlawfully.

At the time Mr Blunkett said he was "deeply disturbed" by the ruling.

'Sense of injustice'

But protest group Campaign to Close Campsfield said it vindicated the fact asylum seekers were "innocent".

Theresa Hayter, from the group, told BBC Radio Oxford: "None of these people has committed any offence.

"They are innocent people and feel a strong sense of injustice."

She said because the Kurdish refugees had successfully argued their human rights had been infringed by their detention at the Oakington centre in Cambridgeshire, the same had to apply to those at Campsfield.

In the face of having to pay out millions of pounds in compensation, the government appealed against the High Court's decision.

See also:

07 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Immigration shake-up unveiled
07 Feb 02 | UK
Sharp end of asylum
15 Dec 99 | UK Politics
Straw 'biased' over deportation ruling
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