The Home Office is to close one of its removal centres amid mounting criticism of the wider detention estate.
The immigration minister announced the closure of Campsfield House, which holds 282 detainees, following fierce condemnation of “unacceptable” conditions at immigration detention sites.
Caroline Nokes said the move was in response to a government-commissioned review in July, which found that detainees were being held for “deeply troubling” lengths of time in dire circumstances.
The British Red Cross called for an overhaul of the UK’s immigration detention system weeks before, warning conditions were such that detainees suffer mental health problems, which sometimes lead to suicide attempts.
The Home Office was hit with a major scandal when undercover footage aired on the BBC last year showed detainees in Brook House being abused, restrained and humiliated by guards.
Earlier this year, The Independent reported on warnings from lawyers that asylum seekers were being unlawfully held in immigration detention despite courts ruling they can be released.
Shortly after, it emerged more than 100 pregnant women had been detained in UK removal centres in the past two years, despite a government-commissioned review recommending the Home Office ban the practice in 2016.
Figures obtained by The Independent in April showed more than one person a day needed medical treatment for self-harming in UK detention, with the number of detainees on regular “suicide watch” also on the rise.
Announcing the closure of Campsfield, which is located near Oxford, Ms Nokes said: “I am grateful to all the staff who’ve worked at Campsfield over the years for their commitment and professionalism.
“Now is the right time to modernise and rationalise the detention estate. We are committed to ensuring we have a fair and humane immigration system that provides control, and detention must only be used when we are confident no other approaches will work.”
She said that by next summer, the Home Office was aiming to reduce the immigration detention estate by almost 40 per cent of its 2015 size, and that the government was “committed to working with charities, faith groups, communities and other stakeholders to develop alternatives to detention”.
But the immigration minister added there were no current plans for further immigration removal centre closures.
Responding to the announcement, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Ed Davey said: “Locking vulnerable people up – often for months on end – without giving them any idea when they’ll be released is clearly inhumane. It’s also expensive and unnecessary.
“It’s good to see that the government is slowly recognising the need to detain fewer vulnerable people, but closing down one detention centre while keeping thousands of people locked up isn’t nearly enough.”
Bella Sankey, director of the Detention Action campaign group, said the closure of Campsfield was a “hard won human rights victory and testament to the growing political consensus that detention is dehumanising and ineffective”.
She added: “Minister Nokes has said she is working to make our immigration system rational, humane and fair. To realise this her government must now introduce a strict 28-day time limit on detention and introduce community based alternatives.”
Celia Clarke, director of the Bail for Immigration Detainees charity, said the closure was “another step in ending detention completely”, adding: “It shows that the Home Office doesn’t need to detain people for immigration purposes.
“The use of detention over the years has caused irreparable damage to so many people who will never recover from their experiences. The end of this desperately harmful system is long overdue.”
Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP in Oxfordshire, where the centre is located, said the move was a “welcome, if overdue, announcement that people won’t be indefinitely detained in our community”.