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How our community stopped an immigration raid

Last Saturday, ordinary people came together in Peckham to keep all of us safe. This is what mutual aid looks like.

17 Jun

On a Saturday morning in early June, our south-east London community showed up and demonstrated what solidarity looks like. Together we resisted an immigration raid in Peckham, and our neighbour was freed.

At 11am on 11 June, I witnessed two immigration enforcement vans parked outside my building on Queens Road Peckham, London. Eight immigration enforcement officers entered armed with tasers and a ram to bash doors open. The detainee’s crime? Not having a British passport.

I put a call-out on Twitter that was picked up by anti-raid networks and locals. Lewisham Anti-Raids is a group of south Londoners building community resistance against immigration raids. We let each other know when immigration officers are in our ends and spread information of what we can all do to stop these raids happening.

On Saturday, there were initially only two of us. As we waited by our neighbour’s door, we heard the officers inside hurrying him, telling him that if he couldn’t find shoes to wear, they would take him barefoot. We heard the officers saying they were taking him for “a chat”. But as they hand-cuffed him, it was increasingly obvious he was being detained. We tried to pass on details of numbers to call once inside an immigration detention centre (such as the Soas Detainee Support line), but the officers pushed us back so we weren’t able to communicate his rights or give him a solicitor’s number.

“Eight immigration enforcement officers entered armed with tasers and a ram to bash doors open. The detainee’s crime? Not having a British passport”

As my calls for support were shared on Twitter, together with neighbours, local anti-raids and CopWatch groups, people lay down in front of the immigration van and surrounded it by linking arms, blocking its exit and stopping it from leaving. Within the first hour, 10 people had gathered, and by the fourth, our local community had come out in the hundreds singing “Let him go” to the tune of DJ Otzi’s ‘Hey Baby’. 

We were not all activists. We were strangers – just neighbours with babies and children uniting against this government’s racist policies who heard the commotion and wanted to support. As we danced in the sun sharing water, ice lollies and suncream, jokes were made about having a BBQ in the parking lot. We knew none of us were leaving until our neighbour was freed; we would be there all night long if it came to that.

As the hours rolled by, we insisted to officers on the scene that our neighbour locked in the van in the heat for over three hours with no food or toilet access be given a comfort break. They refused. As our chanting grew stronger, so did police aggression. Despite us outnumbering police by hundreds, they underestimated us. They pushed the crowd, stepping on us, pulling our hair, punching and kicking us while we were on the floor. The disproportionate violence enacted by the police is a tangible and stark mirror of the violence embedded within the UK’s immigration system.

After five hours, the police announced that we had won. Our neighbour was to be released back home and we were then able to get him access to legal advice ensuring his safety longer-term.

“The disproportionate violence enacted by the police is a tangible and stark mirror of the violence embedded within the UK’s immigration system”

This is what mutual aid looks like: normal people coming together to keep our communities safe. We know the police don’t always protect us – we protect us.

Later I remembered the outrage of officers demanding to know why we were defending a person who had committed a crime. Migration is not a crime. People who live here belong here.

What is a crime however, is the Home Office’s refusal to hear people’s asylum claims and rushing them to offshore detention centres without guaranteed access to legal representation – one of the reasons for which the flight to Rwanda was eventually halted by the European Court of Human Rights. What is a crime is supplying £17bn in weapons to countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel who force Yemenis and Palestinians into exile. A crime is the UK’s mining operations in the Global South contributing to climate disasters and displacing people, such as British-related mining companies Glencore and BHP in Colombia. It’s the UK’s racist border policies and this government’s impunity over thousands of deaths in the English Channel as people attempt to seek safety.

Peckham’s victory might seem small, but it stopped someone being detained. It’s a huge victory in fighting back against the bully that our government shows itself to be. It’s a result of months of community cohesion – we saw it in Glasgow a year ago where hundreds showed up to prevent two men taken by Immigration Enforcement. We saw it just last month in Edinburgh and again in Dalston, east London, where the people came out in force and managed to support workers being harassed by police.

“From resisting raids, to showing up in our thousands at protests, to chipping in for legal fees to take this government to court, we are fighting back and we are winning”

We need to remember our strength as a community: the plane to Rwanda did not take off precisely because of our grassroots, collective action up and down the UK. From resisting raids, to showing up in our thousands at protests, to chipping in for legal fees to take this government to court, we are fighting back and we are winning. Each and every part of the resistance is crucial and everyone needs to get involved, whether that’s by donating to organisations such as Care4Calais or Detention Action, or letting shop keepers know their rights for when immigration officers inevitably come knocking.

The fight is not over. Immigration officers will be back but Saturday showed us that when we come together, we outnumber them and we are stronger than them. Together, we have the power to make their job impossible.

Kaz from Lewisham Anti-Raids contributed to this article.

If you want any help or advice in setting up a local anti-raids group, check out www.antiraids.net or email us at [email protected]

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