Pollokshields immigration raid showed 'undignified' action 'designed to provoke' by Home Office

Early on Thursday morning, a van adorned with Home Office insignia rolled up Kenmure Street in Pollokshields, Glasgow, unaware a routine immigration enforcement raid would lead to the story of the day.

Pictures of the men taken from their homes into the back of the immigration enforcement van as they were released, thwarted by neighbours, friends and strangers, led to scenes of joy.

This was a victory for the people of Pollokshields, of Glasgow, and an indication of the difference between the UK Government and the independent Scotland the SNP wish to build.

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At least that was the line from Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, underlined by the justice secretary’s call for Labour MSPs in Glasgow to join him in calling for the full devolution of immigration and asylum powers to Holyrood.

Two men are released from the back of an Immigration Enforcement van in Kenmure Street, Glasgow after it was surrounded by protesters.Two men are released from the back of an Immigration Enforcement van in Kenmure Street, Glasgow after it was surrounded by protesters.
Two men are released from the back of an Immigration Enforcement van in Kenmure Street, Glasgow after it was surrounded by protesters.

In the chamber of the Scottish Parliament, Mr Yousaf labelled the Home Office’s actions “undignified” and “discompassionate”, saying the Border Agency’s approach had put Police Scotland in an “invidious” position.

Answering an urgent question from Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie, the justice secretary said: “The actions of the Home Office were at best utterly incompetent, at worst intended to provoke. Either way they were completely unacceptable.

“It is increasingly clear that the UK Government is incapable of delivering an immigration and asylum process that reflects Scotland’s values of compassion and dignity.

“The blame for [Thursday’s] actions lie squarely on the shoulders of the Home Office and the reckless action that they took in the heart of Scotland’s Muslim community … on Eid, fully understanding the reaction it would then provoke.”

Chai Patel, legal policy director of the immigration charity the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the scenes showed the the community “at its best”.

He said: “It showed us what community looks like at its best – the people, united, standing up for their neighbours wherever they’re from.

"Without Glaswegians’ incredible acts of solidarity, two people could have been locked away behind closed doors for months, away from their families, homes and sound legal advice.

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"The protests drew attention to these cruel immigration rules, which often jeopardise people’s rights, and ensured people now have time to get decent legal advice and support.

“As [the UK] Government tries to criminalise all protest through the new policing bill, Thursday’s actions are a powerful reminder of why our right to peaceful action must be protected at all costs.”

However, the role of Police Scotland and the Scottish Government’s complicity around these raids was questioned by Robina Qureshi, the director of Positive Action in Housing, a refugee and migrant homelessness charity that has campaigned to end dawn immigration raids.

She said: “We have been here before. If Police Scotland don’t attend these raids in our communities, then Home Office immigration enforcement simply will not carry out dawn or early morning raids. If Police Scotland don’t accompany immigration enforcement vans, then the vans do not go out.

"So all that needs to happen to stop the continued harassment of our communities is for Police Scotland, backed by the Scottish Government, to decline an invitation to accompany these vans. It’s as good as putting the padlocks on the whole operation, which is no bad thing.”

An investigation by The Ferret earlier this year showed hundreds of people were held in Police Scotland cells between April 2018 and October last year, with the number rising from 537 in 2017/18 to 767 in 2019/20.

The force also receives £250 per person from the Home Office for each day an individual is held in immigration detention.

Despite criticism directed towards them, Police Scotland are clear – they have no role in immigration enforcement, do not routinely attend and only appear at raids if issues arise which requires police help.

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A spokesperson said: “Police Scotland does not have responsibility for immigration enforcement. We will, however, respond to any incident reported to us to ensure public safety and minimise disruption to the local community."

Paul Sweeney MSP, one of Scottish Labour’s newly elected representatives for Glasgow, called on the justice secretary to intervene and change when Police Scotland can aid the Home Office.

He said: “The militarised posture adopted by Police Scotland to what was a peaceful protest by the local neighbourhood did seem to be disproportionate and risked driving an escalation of what was a generally calm, but firm picket.

"The dynamic on the ground was much more concerned about protection of the Home Office enforcement van from the picket than stewarding the crowd to preserve public order.

"I am glad that the picket passed off peacefully and was de-escalated after the release of the detained individuals, but the protocols for policing Home Office immigration interventions in future must now be reviewed by the justice secretary.”

However, there are concerns, mostly unspoken, that the response to the raid on Thursday on social media could undermine similar scenarios in which police action is required to ensure the health and safety of the public.

Murdo Fraser, a Scottish Conservative MSP, took to Twitter to express his concern about the response from senior SNP politicians to the raid and the protest.

He said: “I hope all Rangers fans will celebrate responsibly tomorrow, esp [sic] given the spike in Glasgow Covid cases.

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"Sadly I fear such calls are undermined by some politicians actively encouraging street protests. Can’t be one rule for some and another for others.”

In March, Rangers fans were roundly criticised for their celebrations on the streets of Glasgow with Police Scotland’s perceived failure to intervene and clear the crowds also criticised.

Responding to Thursday's protest, Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr MSP said: “The rule of law must be respected and frontline officers have to be able to do their job safely.

“Nobody wants to see these scenes, particularly during a pandemic when Covid rates in Glasgow are rising, and both governments need to get around the table to avoid these kind of situations in future.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office added: “The UK Government is tackling illegal immigration and the harm it causes, often to the most vulnerable people by removing those with no right to be in the UK.

“The operation in Glasgow was conducted in relation to suspected immigration offences and the two Indian nationals complied with officers at all times.

“The UK Government continues to tackle illegal migration in all its forms and our New Plan for Immigration will speed up the removal of those who have entered the UK illegally.”

While Home Office sources may have blamed a “mob”, Police Scotland viewed the protest as an example of a routine immigration enforcement raid that happens regularly across Scotland, which turned into a wider police matter as protesters took to the streets.

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There is no indication or concern, at least none being expressed in the public sphere, that the scenes on the streets of Pollokshields on Thursday and the responses from politicians will lead to issues down the line for the Home Office when conducting similar raids in future.

The hard questions about what sort of country Scotland should be in terms of immigration, however, will continue to be asked.

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