Sheriff’s officers who tried to deliver eviction notices were frequently deforced by those whom they had come to remove to the four corners of the earth and, temporarily at least, the wickedness they represented was headed off.
There is a long and honourable history of parallel actions in urban settings against evictions and removals. This week, Kenmure Street in Glasgow took its place in that tradition when officials of UK Border Force were well and truly deforced by the collective action of people who, apparently spontaneously, resisted the removal of two men from their place of refuge.
If those responsible have any interest in learning from history, the certainty is that these actions are contagious. It will be a long time, I suspect, before a van with the words “Immigration Enforcement – Home Office” emblazoned upon it turns up in any street without engendering a similar response. It would be prudent to keep them in their garages.
The stupidity of the Kenmure Street episode is obvious from the response it drew. To choose a day of religious celebration on which to take this action in a diverse community reflects a high degree of insensitivity. We need to know if this so unusual that it is signed off at senior, perhaps ministerial, level or so routine that the power resides with a lowly official.
Either way, the guiding principle should be that in a civilised society, all matters involving potential illegality are carried out through a process of law and not by knocking people’s doors down and throwing them in the back of a van. The only exceptions should be where a search or arrest warrant has been signed on the basis of evidence involving criminality.
A detailed statement about the Kenmure Street case is required and the Home Office should recognise that in its own interests. If it has a case, then state it. What are the circumstances of these two men’s presence in Glasgow? What were the grounds for pursuing them? What steps had been taken to correct any irregularity before the “Immigration Enforcement” van appeared in the street?
Nicola Sturgeon and others have described them as “asylum seekers”. It is important to know if this is accurate. A much more collaborative approach was developed among UK, Scottish and local authorities following the episode in 2019 when asylum seekers found themselves homeless and destitute after Serco, the accommodation provider, changed the locks on their accommodation. So where was the collaboration in this case?
Glasgow is one of two ‘dispersal centres’ in the UK which leads to there being about 5,000 asylum seekers in the city. The report which the Glasgow Task Force produced made sensible suggestions about piloting rule changes which would include the right of asylum seekers to work after six months and not need to find their way to points like Croydon and Liverpool to register or make submissions.
Inherent in that approach is the inevitability of an end point in each case – either successful or unsuccessful when an appeals process is exhausted. On this point, however, the Task Force admitted defeat stating it “was not able to identify a solution for people who become appeal rights exhausted, with no legal right to remain, who are not now eligible for support for accommodation or subsistence from the Home Office. The Home Office expects (without immigration enforcement) for these people to voluntarily depart the UK. For people who don’t voluntarily leave, they are effectively left to rely on charitable and other solutions”.
That conclusion confirms there is a real and difficult issue to address. Nobody should pretend otherwise – not least in the interests of genuine asylum seekers.
All these matters have been tainted by the “hostile environment” rhetoric which Kenmure Street appeared to symbolise. Everyone can now agree on what should not be done but this could usefully become a case study in what the alternatives are and how they are to be implemented – fairly and humanely.