REFUGEE campaigners welcomed Cherwell District Council's decision to block government plans to expand a controversial immigration "prison" in Oxfordshire yesterday.
Cherwell District Council received an outline planning proposal from the Home Office to expand the capacity of Campsfield House in Kidlington by almost 60 per cent, despite fierce opposition from the local community and asylum groups.
But, at a meeting on Thursday night, all 12 members of the council's South Area Planning Committee rejected the proposals.
Councillor Andrew Hornsby-Smith, who led the opposition, warned that, in the last months, there have been two suicide attempts and one serious assault in the centre, which houses "failed" asylum-seekers.
"Across the political spectrum, there's concern that this is an inappropriate development and that the current centres are being mismanaged," he added.
Campsfield was actually earmarked for closure in February 2002, after Home Secretary David Blunkett admitted to the poor quality of the centre.
But the government now wants to expand the centre and send an extra 106 male refugees there, taking its capacity to 290.
As part of its "tough" asylum policy, Mr Blunkett is eager to increase the number of removal centre places in Britain from the current 1726 to 4000.
This is despite repeated warnings from campaigners that imprisoning and criminalising innocent people is bound to provoke "justifiably" angry and outraged detainees to start riots or commit suicide.
The Close Campfield campaign group, which spearheaded the opposition to the Home Office proposals, celebrated the council's decision.
The group said that, since it opened in the 1990s, the centre has been "plagued" by suicide-attempts, hunger strikes and mass protests.
"You cannot imprison and brutalise innocent people without expecting trouble," a spokesman insisted.
"The people inside are teachers, nurses and ordinary people who have not even been charged with any crime. This is purely to 'send a clear message' to the poorer and blacker members of the world's population that Britain is a tough place where there are no easy pickings."
The group also alleges that most of Britain's detention centres are run by private security firms, whose low-paid guards have little training and are often "blatantly and violently racist."
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