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Archbishop reflects on visit to Oakington Immigration Centre

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of York at Oakington Immigration Centre

Wednesday 20th February 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke about his experience of visiting the Oakington Immigration Centre during his visit to Cambridge.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York began their visit to Cambridge by visiting the Oakington Immigration Detention Centre where they met the multi-faith chaplaincy team, as well as detainees and staff, to highlight the political and human rights issues before giving a homily at a short service. The immigration centre is based on the site of the disused RAF Oakington and can hold up to 352 detainees. It was designed to hold asylum seekers but in recent years it has held a large number of foreign prisoners awaiting deportation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury reflected on his experience of the immigration centre saying, 'Two cases struck me particularly: One was a man who came up to me and said with great distress, "My wife is in labour as we're speaking. I can't be with her this time and I can't get news". The other was someone who had been born in France and therefore ought not to have a problem about being here, but having lived in Benin for many years the immigration authorities had decided that he was some sort of Nigerian, and therefore thought to be sent to Nigeria where he never lived, where he had no family. He showed me the letter he'd had which essentially said "Well you're Nigerian, Benin is in Nigeria isn't it so that's where we're sending you". Now, the inefficiency of all this - a huge inefficiency in the system legally and administratively – actually lands as cruelty to people like that. And it's a shameless place I'm afraid. People there, staff there, are doing their best you know. It's no good scape-goating them, they're doing their best to be humane and to keep up morale in a very inhumane setting. It's all being done, as they say, in our name'.

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