By JAMES REED
This article was submitted to Socialist Resurgence by a participant at the mass deportation defense in Glasgow, Scotland.
Thursday, the 13th of May, saw a wonderful victory won in Glasgow. That morning, the Home Office, the department of the UK government that deals with immigration and asylum, attempted a dawn raid on Kenmure Street in Glasgow’s Pollokshields neighbourhood. Immigration officials forced entry into the home of two asylum seekers, Lakvir Singh and Sumit Sehdev, and hustled them into a van to be transported to a detention centre. However, with the sighting of the Home Office van in the street, news was spread round social media, and local activists were quickly on the scene to block the departure of the van.
Key to this was the quick thinking of one comrade who crawled underneath the van to stop it driving off. He remained there for around eight hours (https://twitter.com/daleharvey/status/1392916167623315461) as a crowd of protesters flocked to the scene and filled the path both in front of and behind the van. By the afternoon, hundreds of people were gathered on Kenmure Street, and the nearby bus stop had been turned into a makeshift distribution centre for water and food.
At one point the police made a number of arrests at one end of the road as activists tried to stop them removing a car that had been parked so as to block the road from police vehicles. Additionally, later on, the police used the pretence of clearing access for a paramedic to talk to the man under the van to attempt to clear one end of the street of protesters (https://twitter.com/AlanJZycinski/status/1392848057881014277), but the crowd held fast against them and they withdrew to much jeering and chanting.
As the afternoon wore on, the police drew up a considerable number of vans and equipment on either end of the street, as well as horse boxes (https://twitter.com/UrbanistTOC/status/1392887502424485890). Despite the mounting police presence, everyone at Kenmure was committed to remain in place and block the van as best they could, but it was uncertain as to how the standoff would shake out: Either the release of the prisoners, or the violent clearing of the street and the removal of the comrade underneath the van, thus allowing the deportation of Singh and Sehdev to take place.
Thankfully, it did not come to the violent scenes like those seen at the Policing Bill protests in Bristol. Throughout the day, frantic negotiations were in progress between various political figures and the Home Office in order to achieve some kind of resolution to the stand-off. At various points, sympathetic MSPs (Ministers of the Scottish Parliament) and MPs tried to get hold of the Home Office to no avail. In particular, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Scottish justice secretary, Humza Yousaf, engaged in terse discussions with the Home Office over their dawn raids policy—discussions which broke down, however, with no conclusive result. In this can be seen a conflict between the devolved Scottish government and the UK government over the issue of immigration policy, which the UK government controls. It appears to be the case that eventually, by the early evening, the Scottish government finally managed to agree a stand down with Police Scotland, control of which is devolved to Scotland. Human rights lawyer and prominent refugee rights activist Aaamer Anwar communicated this agreement to the crowd, stating that he had it in writing that the two asylum seekers would be released from the van and escorted to the nearby Sikh Sabha Association building on Nithsdale Road by a police cordon. The wonderful moment when the van was opened and the prisoners freed can be seen in this video: https://twitter.com/ReidEileen1/status/1392883317188481026.
With Singh and Sehdev freed and being escorted to safety, the entire demonstration (by this point well over a thousand people) followed along, chanting slogans and celebrating in the streets of Pollokshields, so forming an impromptu victory march. Then at the Sikh Sabha Association, the two liberated men thanked the crowd in Punjabi and went inside. The scene outside the building was captured in this video: https://twitter.com/zuhaldmrc/status/1392915326258630664).
It is so rare in leftist politics that you actually get to take part in a genuine celebratory moment, and the march through Pollokshields was truly electrifying. The Home Office and the Johnson government tried to pick on the people of Glasgow, and we stopped them in their tracks. Special praise, of course, goes to the man who remained under the van for the duration: His courage gave the rest of us time to mobilise, and it’s safe to say he played a key part in saving two men from deportation. Glasgow has shown the rest of the UK how powerful direct action and the solidarity of neighbours can be. And when the Home Office returns to try another dawn raid, we’ll be ready to fight them all over again!
Photo: Crowd blocks Home Office detention van. (The National)