In Walworth

Wail Qasim

Home Office Immigration Enforcement officers seize up to forty people a day. They carry out raids in communities with large ethnic minority populations, without warning, and snatch their unsuspecting targets, who are often uninformed about their rights, from their places of work or off the street.

Immigration Enforcement (IE) replaced part of the UK Border Agency in 2013 to carry on the work of tackling so-called ‘immigration offences’. According to Home Office statistics, there were more than 4400 ‘enforcement visit arrests linked to information received’ last year, leading to over 1000 ‘subsequent removals’. In total there were over 12,000 enforced removals for breaches of UK immigration law in 2014. How many of them were the result of the 10,000 indiscriminate (i.e. not ‘linked to information received’) raids isn’t clear. Many of the people who aren’t deported end up in detention centres; others are released. Again, the precise figures aren't published.

The spectre of the 'illegal immigrant' in the mass media allows the raids to take place with little public concern. But there is resistance to them. In Walworth on Sunday, local people, together with activists engaged in housing and anti-racism struggles, got to the scene quick enough to obstruct the arrest of a migrant working in a shop. When someone sees an arrest going on, or spots the IE vans, they can feed the information to anti-raids networks that spread the news on social media.

Groups such as the Anti-Raids Network also provide information, in several languages, about what to expect from IE officers, and what people’s rights are: you do not have to comply if you face harassment or racial-profiling.

People in Walworth stood in the IE van’s way to prevent it from leaving, let the air out of its tyres and pelted it with fruit from the market. Anti-racist chants and music drew more and more people to defy the IE officers and the police who turned out to defend them. I got there early, and was able to see the way the mood changed with increasing police numbers.

‘He's going, there's nothing you can do about it,' the police kept saying. The community response was: ‘No, he isn’t illegal.’ Eventually the police sent in three vans of Territorial Support Group officers. By running at the crowd, pushing protesters to the ground and unleashing dogs on people, including children, the riot police allowed the Immigration Enforcement van to get away, their prisoner caged in the back. After a running battle with angry residents, the rest of the police drove away.

Immigration raids and sweeps are violent and racist. It may be that the only way to stop them is by forcing thirty or more riot police to turn up and get involved, so that the state brutality is plainer to see, and snatching people for deportation becomes more trouble for the authorities than it’s worth.


  • 25 June 2015 at 11:23am
    Dominic Rice says:
    What is this blog proposing? That Britain must have no restrictions on immigration at all? Or that, if we do have some restrictions, they should never be enforced?

  • 26 June 2015 at 10:04am
    kadinsky says:
    How are immigration laws to be enforced? I see no suggestions here.

    • 26 June 2015 at 12:19pm
      Alan Benfield says: @ kadinsky
      Well, preferably not by a bunch of heavies with dubious legal authority to do so roaming around in vans arresting people who fit the profile.

      Here in the Netherlands, immigration enforcement is run by the IND (Immigratie en Naturalisatie Dienst) which is a department of the Royal Maritime Police (Koninklijke Marechaussee), which also deals with border control and customs. Their legal authority (and the control over them) is clear (mind you, they are often accused of being thugs as well).

      But "Immigration Enforcement officers"? Who? Clearly, from the above report, they have no police powers, as they had to call the riot squad to help them out. Probably soon to be outsourced to G4S.

      And we know what that's all about...

    • 26 June 2015 at 1:16pm
      kadinsky says: @ Alan Benfield
      I'm guessing you know something I don't. I was under an impression that Home Office Immigration Enforcement officers are the government agency directly tasked with enforcing UK immigration law. Why is their legality dubious? And why besmirch them as 'thugs'? Their task may not be a pleasant one, but I'm sure they're as professional in enacting it as any other police officers. I was simply pointing out that the author offers no suggestions as to how this task might otherwise be carried out.

    • 29 June 2015 at 12:28pm
      Alan Benfield says: @ kadinsky
      "And why besmirch them as ‘thugs’?"

      I didn't. I might have referred to them as 'heavies', but the 'thugs' came from a remark about the Marechauussee - it was not intended to refer back to the IE officers.

      IE was formed only on 1 April 2012, presumably growing out of the wreckage of the less than successful Border Agency. You can see how it works in interminable detail here:

  • 26 June 2015 at 12:50pm
    Dominic Rice says:
    There is nothing legally dubious about Home Office immigration enforcement officers. They are government officials tasked with enforcing UK immigration law. They only called in the riot squad because they were confronted with a mini-riot in fulfilling their duty.

  • 28 June 2015 at 2:35pm
    Simon Wood says:
    Nice postcard from Walworth, though, Wail, a gem in this blog.

    Letting down the tyres of the IE van is like smashing the windows of estate agents to bring down capitalism. But this scene reminds me of Ayikoe Atayi case down here.

  • 28 June 2015 at 5:08pm
    Winstanley says:
    Dear lord, is it any wonder the left is on its knees?

    If those people detained are here illegally they should be deported. How on earth do these activists expect people to respect the laws that they like (discrimination etc.) if they are not prepared to abide by the whole legal code?

    The left has to accept that the public have spoken and that they want immigration reduced. They also have to acknowledge that one of the reasons people want to come to the UK is because we have a strong rule of law.

    • 30 June 2015 at 6:28pm
      John Cowan says: @ Winstanley
      A strong rule of law is not the same as the law of the strong arm. See this list of people who have died of neglect or abuse in U.S. immigration detention. When you round up people indiscriminately without probable cause or proper investigation, such things are going to happen.

      And while civil disobedience is best known among Americans, South Africans, and Indians, it's no accident that all those peoples have inherited some of their values from the British. Look up ship-money sometimes, and John Hampden. To say nothing of Gerrard Winstanley.

  • 30 June 2015 at 2:40pm
    Simon Wood says:
    Labour have a lot of seats and are not entirely on their knees, more on the wi-fi in some café, saying "Can I get?" when they order another latte.

    I thought Wail's post was an interesting snapshot of what actually happens "on the ground" when someone is carted off.

    I agree, though, the word "activist" summons a picture of someone who sees the right bands, wears the right shoes and is a bit of a pain in private - probably on some sort of spectrum, has no sense of nuance, balance, common sense or humour. Has issues, that's it.

  • 30 June 2015 at 5:23pm
    jp2 says:
    'Winstanley' is sure some really bad joke of a username, given the historical Winstanley's declaration of the earth as common treasury.

    Not why is the left on its knees - why are working people on their knees spouting the vile vested interest of the privileged, when their fellow working people from across an imaginary borderline seek to support themselves and families?

    As of now, capital is borderless while workers are to be trapped in their respective cages. Well - the earth being a common treasury - open your head, open all borders and join the human race. Why in the world are we here? if only we had some instant karma...

  • 30 June 2015 at 7:24pm
    warnjai says:
    Why do you publish such pro-illegal-immigrant articles? It is quite obvious that most British people want to stop illlegal immigration. Most of those opposed to illegal immigration are not even right-wing! We just want to control our borders again and stop people coming here and settling with no justification. FYI, in some Asian countries it is not even possible for foreigners to buy property, and yet in Britain we allow anyone in, we don't check IDs. And, we allow anyone to walk the streets and if we challenge foreigners WE (not they) are treated as the criminals.
    We should be following the Australian system. I am not right-wing, but Tony Abbott is correct in this regard.

    • 1 July 2015 at 7:52am
      Alan Benfield says: @ warnjai
      To take some of your points in order:

      "It is quite obvious that most British people want to stop illegal immigration. Most of those opposed to illegal immigration are not even right-wing!"

      No, the vocal minority who oppose immigration largely want to halt all immigration of any kind, although the attitudes of the majority are more nuanced and subject to local variations. People who are unemployed in an area where lots and Poles and Romanians (who aren't illegals) live complain they are taking jobs from locals. Curiously, the most anti-immigrant feelings are often expressed by people who have probably never seen an immigrant, while those in areas with a high immigrant population (like London) often display much more tolerant attitudes.

      "FYI, in some Asian countries it is not even possible for foreigners to buy property"

      Yes, it's about time we stopped all those rich foreigners who buy up housing and then leave it empty, driving up house prices, from buying property, isn't it? How many illegals do you suppose can actually afford to buy a property?

      "if we challenge foreigners WE (not they) are treated as the criminals."

      Really? How so? Have you recently been arrested for challenging a foreigner? Have the police raided your house on the basis that someone reported you for complaining about illegal immigrants, or is this just hyperbole?

      "I am not right-wing."

      Oh, believe me, you are. You're just in denial... Do you ever find yourself beginning a sentence with: "I'm not prejudiced, but..."?

      By the way, the UK patrols its border more assiduously than almost any other EU member state, despite being one of the furthest from the most vulnerable borders and having a natural barrier between it and the closest land mass. Despite this, it has one of the highest (estimated) percentages of illegals in the EU (along with Ireland and Belgium). Curious that all that time and effort gives the same result as two Schengen countries.

      People are drawn to the UK as a destination because it is seen as a place where employment is available (albeit in very low-paid jobs) and English, the modern lingua franca, is spoken. Ireland probably has a similar attraction. Other EU countries have lower populations of illegals probably because, say, learning Czech or Polish is more onerous than learning English. But the developed world leader in illegal immigration is, of course, the US, which, with an estimated 3.8% of its population being undocumented immigrants, has one of the highest figures in the developed world, fully two and a half times the estimated figure for the UK.

    • 15 July 2015 at 5:18pm
      John Cowan says: @ Alan Benfield
      Minor correction: Ireland is actually not a Schengen country. If they were, they'd have to maintain full border controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is neither practicable nor politic.

      In the U.S. our anti-immigrant populists are usually pretty careful to talk only of illegal immigration (though I am sure they are secretly just as blood-and-soil as yours), if only to avoid the devastating tu quoque reply: Are you arguing against your own grandparents?

  • 1 July 2015 at 5:49pm
    benscanlon says:
    I am an Australian, albeit one who has lived in the UK for many years. I ran a campaign for stateless 'British Overseas Citizens' for about five years. This was a very small number of individuals, from Malaysia; the issue was that Home Office had over the years been very inconsistent in its treatment of them, to the extent that it seemed pretty clear to me that after 5-15 years in the UK, they had acquired a reasonable enough expectation to stay.

    The BOC passport is unique so far as I know in that it permits the holder to live nowhere. It does however, look very like a full-fat British passport and countries which will not tolerate dual citizenship may take away the prior citizenship of someone who acquires BOC 'nationality.'

    It seemed to me that the UK, in holding out something like this to people who spoke very little English, could not just tolerate these individuals, accept the fruits of their low-paid labour for years, then turn around after a decade and demand they leave.

    One BOC rang Home Office and was told by staff to renounce his Malaysian passport and to apply to register as British (five years after that option had been removed by amendments to the British Nationality Act.) Others' cases were just sat on for the Home Office for periods of five years to a decade. One was issued a British passport and it was then 'cancelled' by an Entry Clearance Officer. With that kind of history, I thought it ethical to fight for their right to stay.

    On the few occasions individuals were deported, they seemed easily able to travel back to the UK again, and Malaysia for its part had no interest in the return of people who it had enabled to procure the 'loss' of Malaysian nationality.

    One thing I always thought was that if Britain did not want these individuals, it was up to the Home Office to be very clear about this from the onset. They never were.

    I see that since the Australian approach has made it clear to those who come to Australia by boat that they will not be resettled there, the boats have simply stopped coming.

    People will have their own views that Australia's offshore policy is 'mean and tricky' and certainly I would agree there is an element of that.

    But aren't people smugglers also just a little bit 'mean and tricky' themselves? And the tougher approach has deterred people.

    The option of resettling in Cambodia, or other SE Asian countries, which I thought would be at least a reasonable option to true asylum seekers in fear of life and limb, is evidently not sufficiently attractive to encourage anyone to make the journey.

    The question then surely becomes, what proportion were genuine asylum seekers vs economic migrants?

    It is not as if Australia does not have a process for accepting economic migrants; throughout the years of the 'Pacific Solution' the number who migrated was of the order of 790,000, at least according to the Australian immigration figures I added up on the back of an envelope.

    I have been on both sides of these arguments, and I think this example does raise interesting questions for the UK and perhaps the EU as well.

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