Archbishop visits where I work

Just north of Oxford hidden by trees lies the Campsfield Immigration Removal Centre where about 250 men at any one time are locked up as they await deportation. Somewhat surprisingly many of these men are from the EU, because any EU Citizen who breaks the law faces deportation back to their country of origin. This can include people who have lived in the UK since their childhood but have never get round to applying for British Citizenship. Then there are those from the rest of the world whom the Home Office thinks are in the UK illegally. Again these can be men who have lived in the UK a long time and may be married to a UK Citizen with British children, or they can be people who have arrived illegally more recently, or have stayed on after their Student Visa or other kind of Visa has expired.

All these Centres, although surrounded by high fences and locked doors, try to provide as many facilities for these men as possible including access to lawyers if they want to ask for asylum or argue their case. There is also a direct Video link to the Courts for when their case is heard.  At Campsfield, unlike some other Centres that are more like prisons, the men are free to wander around except at lock-up at night; and as well as facilities for sport and keep fit and games and art and education and restricted access to the Internet, there is also a comprehensive Chaplaincy service. This tries to cater for the religious needs of all the detainees; so there is a Chapel, a Mosque and a Prayer Room as well as the Chaplain’s Office where the men can come to share their troubles and ask for advice. The Archbishop saw all that the Centre provides, and visited on a Monday, the day when the part-time Catholic Chaplain is there, so that it was the Archbishop who celebrated a Palm Sunday Mass for the men on that day. He later had lunch in the Dining Hall where both staff and detainees are catered for.

The men have mixed emotions. Some are resigned to being deported whilst others are highly indignant at the way they are being treated. Many are sad, even frightened, by what they may face if they have to return to their country of origin. The staff, including the Chaplains, cannot get involved in the politics of all this. Their task is to support the men during their stay in every way they can. Clearly for some this includes the provision of places of prayer and times of prayer including Mass for those who wish to come. The Catholic Chaplain tries to meet and greet as many of the detainees and staff during his short time there, and to pray for them all at Mass whether they come or not. He also offers personal prayers and a blessing for those who ask for it. Prayers for this work are always needed.