Category: General

Confronting the raids: Story #3

This is the third in our series of first-hand accounts by individuals who’ve taken action after spotting an immigration arrest van, also sometimes known as a #racistvan. See here for stories 1 and 2. We think that it’s important that people anonymously share their accounts to inspire & give others courage to challenge immigration raids when they see them happening.

Submitted by anon. on 6/2/17.

I was already running late for a meeting. But then I saw the van: ‘Immigration Enforcement.’ Parked on a residential side street, unaccompanied, I had heard enough about raids to know that one was probably in progress, and that if I waited, a human may be bundled out into that van without ever having known some fundamental rights that could allow them to continue living their life in this country.

So I began waiting. I called to say I’d be late for the meeting, I sent some texts and Tweets out to see if others could join me and I brushed up on the bust card info on the Anti Raids Network site, to make sure I knew what to say and do. The info was relatively simple: film the officers, not those being detained; make sure those being detained know that they have no legal requirement to answer questions and can walk away; pass support phone numbers on to the individual if possible, should they be taken into custody.

A friend arrived after about an hour. There’d still been no action, beyond a few conversations with folks who had clearly also clocked the van with suspicion. One wanted to be able to support and lived nearby. We added each other on Facebook. Once it was two of us, another conversation kicked-off. Another person who said they wanted to help stop these things from happening. We traded numbers.
Shortly after, two Home Office officers came down the street, unaccompanied. They made a comment about us standing there, to see if we were taking a selfie with their van and then got in.

We were both on bikes and decided to follow them. They clearly hadn’t managed to nab anyone in this stop, but we thought they might be heading off to try elsewhere. So we stayed as close as we could. They initially did a loop around on a bunch of side streets, gaging whether we were indeed following them. We made clear that we were, sticking close, making regular eye contact at red lights.

 

London traffic on a weekday morning worked to our advantage. We nearly lost them a couple of times, but there were enough red lights and gridlock for us to stay close. When they got to Liverpool Street, traffic was at a standstill. I spent an hour tweeting and messaging people and photographing the officers in the vehicle, to at least make sure they knew they were still being watched. Eventually, they peeled off the main road and pulled into the parking lot of Home Office, Beckett House, alongside a dozen other racist vans. I took one last close-up of them as they pulled in, and then headed off.

Were they going to hit up another raid spot but decided to head back to base because they didn’t like the idea of having their dirty work observed? Maybe. Were they simply heading back to the office for their next assignment and we provided an unexpected escort along the way between N15 and SE1? Quite possibly. It is impossible to know if we directly affected their plans in any way that morning.
At the very least though, we removed a bit of their sense of impunity. Too often raids happen because there is no one around to hold the officials to account. The more they feel they are under the microscope when they go out to ruin people’s lives, the more they will have to think about doing so. A few words at the right moment informing someone of their rights, might prevent abuses of the law and might scupper an arrest. The absence of those words too often means someone left sitting in a detention centre, en route back to a country they have tried their best to leave behind.

When the law is unaccountable, it is up to all of us to create accountability ourselves where we can. Any moment when you see a racist van, is a moment you can be a part of that. It might make a fundamental difference in someone’s life, but at the very least it will make those carrying out these forms of state violence a little more aware that they are not free to destroy people’s lives without consequence.

Imagine what would happen if these bullies weren’t able to go out on a raid without being swarmed by observers and those willing to directly intervene in their violence? We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we can make their work impossible, wherever we come across them and that in fact, doing so is all of our responsibility.

Organising against the ‘hostile environment’: poster for GP surgeries

Following the revelation that NHS Digital handed over an incredible 8,000+ patients’ records to Immigration Enforcement last year, it is clear that state attempts to create an even more ‘hostile environment’ for undocumented migrants in Britain need to be urgently stopped in their tracks by individual and collective acts of courage and defiance.

It is despicable that potentially thousands unwell and vulnerable people sought medical help, and that this was then used against them and their families for the purposes of Immigration Enforcement. How many dawn raids have resulted from this vile marriage of NHS Digital and Immigration Enforcement? How many people ripped apart from friends and families, detained and deported? How many NHS staff entered patients details into their computer systems oblivious to the fact that senior management were sharing this with the Home Office?

We need to get organised against this institutionalised racism and increasing social control — and fast. As as first step, one person managed to get his local GP surgery to pledge not to check anyone’s immigration status. Here is his account:

“From April 2016, it’s been a requirement for all GP practices in England to set up a patient participation group or “patients’ forum”. I was asked in late 2016 by my GP if I was willing to participate.

One of the potential jobs of a patients’ forum is ensuring patients are aware of their rights and identifying ways of improving how surgeries are run. I live in a council ward of east London where only 37% of people were born in England: most came from India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh and the average age is 30. There is always a constant shift in the population and lots of people in rented, often crowded housing. The rates for TB infection are amongst the highest in Europe.

I had heard stories of GP surgeries demanding to see proof of immigration status and about the pressure from the government on the NHS to share data on patients in order to track down potential “illegal” migrants. So, at my surgery’s patients’ forum last month, I raised the idea of making a public declaration that our surgery would never ask for a patient’s passport as proof of their identification.

I expected a battle on this, but there was complete agreement from the rest of the forum and also from the GP. We talked about the importance of ensuring as many people as possible are registered, particularly to ensure early diagnosis of TB but also mental health issues and general medical advice in an area where only 45% of the residents speak English.

The plan now is to encourage other GPs in the local Clinical Commissioning Group area to take up this public stance and display posters too.”

This poster can be used by GP surgeries who want to make it clear that they oppose government attempts to turn them into Home Office informers. See here for a full size pdf version of the poster for downloading and printing.

Report back from the first Kids Against Raids & Borders (KARB) meeting

Written by Schools Against Borders for Children (ABC)

On Sunday 20th November, about 20 children and adults came together for the first ever Kids Against Raids and Borders meeting. There were wide ranging discussions about the ways that racist violence is carried out through government agencies and individual actions.

Young people talked about their experiences of racism and everyone talked about developing strategies to avoid or stop harm creates by racists.

One 14 year old suggested using Snapchat to share resources about what Immigration Enforcement vans look like and what to do when you see an immigration raid or if a family member is questioned by an immigration officer (don’t talk as you can refuse to answer their questions). The group discussed how to raise awareness among their peers about the school census and what immigration controls actually involve, and ideas included making comics, leaflets and zines.

Young people also broke out into their own space to discuss ideas without adults dominating their conversation. Using memes like the Mannequin Challenge was an idea that KARB will look into producing.

Kojo from Against Borders for Children did a presentation and Q & A on the Government’s Foreign Children Database and the ongoing boycott of nationality questions on the school census. The campaign recently won a concession which now means pre-school children are now exempt from the nationality questions but 5 – 19 year olds will still be targeted in January.

We also watched a video of a Shutdown Yarls Wood demonstration by Sin Fronteras and they talked about how to make links with those in detention.

The next meeting will be set in the New Year. All are welcome to attend so contact Schools ABC for more information and to keep updated.

First meeting of Kids Against Raids & Borders (KARB)

The first few months since the introduction of the nationality requirements of the school census has seen campaigning & boycott calls from groups like Schools ABC and Defend Digital Me, as well as children such as Biplob who have simply refused to comply with the data collection. On the back of this, the next Nights against Borders social in South London will see the launch of a new youth-led group called Kids Against Raids & Borders (KARB). This first meeting will provide a space for children and young people to get together and plan. The not-so-young are equally welcome to come along in the spirit of solidarity.

KIDS AGAINST RAIDS & BORDERS (KARB) – FIRST MEETING, SUNDAY 20TH NOVEMBER 3.30-6PM AT THE FIELD, 385 QUEENS ROAD, NEW CROSS.

Children cross borders.

Children are targeted by racists.

Children witness raids.

Children see media and political campaigns that scapegoat migrants.

This is a group for children, young people and their families to support each other and share ways of resisting raids and borders in children’s lives. In our first ever meeting as part of the monthly Nights against Borders :

– Grown-ups can talk with other families about the impact of anti-immigrant campaigns on our families and children, and discuss how they can support children in the face of these campaigns;
– Young people and children can meet together, discuss what they want from the group, make a blog site, a zine and artwork for the group, see a film made by young people about resisting borders plan other activities, learn about resisting raids;
-Younger children can play, paint, make things, tell and hear stories.

Rough schedule:

3.30-5pm: Kids activities in the greenhouse & garden (entrance through the side gate).

5-6pm: Discussion in the main space with contributions from KARB, Sin Fronteras (a Latin American youth group working for migrant rights) and SchoolsABC (a campaign group against borders in schools).

6-10pm: Food and social.

Download the leaflet here

Stop the raids in Soho & Chinatown!

We repost this important statement from Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) about raids which took place in Soho on Thursday. Stop the raids in Soho and Chinatown!

Sex Worker Open University is extremely concerned by last night’s raids on (presumed) sex work premises in Chinatown and Soho. ‘Operation Lanhydrock’ has been described in the press as an anti-trafficking raid, however this is clearly not about the safety or rights of the women “rescued”, who have been taken into immigration detention. It seems likely that they will be deported. Immigration detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood have been documented to be places of endemic abuse for those detained there, making the police statement that these women have been taken to “a place of safety” a sadly disturbing claim.

The phrase ‘anti-trafficking’ in the police press release gives these raids a form of progressive cover – but it would be extremely naive, after a summer of of raids such as those at Byron Burger, and ever-mounting anti-migrant rhetoric from the government, to imagine that the police and immigration service act in the best interests of migrants or the best interests of workers. At the very least, regardless of your perspective on sex work, a perspective of deep skepticism towards the police and immigration services’ representation of their own motives and actions is crucial.

We also want to highlight the police seizure of £35,000. Again, regardless of your views on sex work, this money clearly belongs to the women who were working in these premises. However, lack of police accountability to migrant workers, and the horrendously broad proceeds of crime act make it highly likely that these women will not see this money – their money – again. The police claim that “the operation is aimed at bringing to justice those who seek to profit from the exploitation of vulnerable people” is deeply ironic given that the police themselves have profited in this raid from their own exploitation of vulnerable people to the tune of £35,000. The criminalisation of both prostitution and migration is extremely profitable for the state.

Sex Worker Open University is calling for the immediate release of the women arrested last night, the return of their money to them, and an end to racist, anti-migrant, anti-prostitution raids in Soho and Chinatown.

Pupils Rising Up – School Census, and Immigration Data Collection – An interview with Biplob

Pupils Rising Up – School Census, and Immigration Data Collection – An interview with Biplob

This summer, the Department of Education (DfE) announced that starting September 2016, schools across the UK would be collecting immigration data with the Early Years/School Census. This includes details of pupils’ nationality and country of birth. The Department of Education did not explain the reasons for this new gathering of information, nor did they explain who would have access to it. Groups such as Against Borders for Children are concerned that this new data will be used to facilitate immigration enforcement, using the information collected in schools to investigate and potentially deport individuals or families.

Those fears are well-founded. Data obtained through a Freedom of Information request (response delayed by the government until after census day), shows that the Home Office accessed information relating to pupils’ home addresses and schools 18 times in the past four years for the purposes of immigration enforcement; the number of individuals that this relates to is not clear. Access requests were reportedly made in response to Home Office efforts to track down parents who had disappeared after being told they faced deportation, or where the Home Office was trying to find unaccompanied children who had disappeared or gone to ground (read: children who were also faced with deportation).

While the Early Years/School Census is a statutory obligation tied to government funding of schools, parents are supposedly allowed to opt-out of these new questions on nationality and place of birth. However, as the following interview with a Year 7 student goes to show, many schools are seeking this data directly from the students, and these questions are not easy to refuse, with social pressure and misinformation being used to urge parents to provide the information. It is therefore especially important that students and parents alike are conscious of what the census really implies, and are aware of their rights of refusal.

Some parents and teachers have joined with Against Borders for Children (ABC) fighting against the collection of this immigration and nationality data. ABC provide sample opt-out letters to parents and appeal to MPs and schools to get behind the campaign. However, as Biplob points out, the issues run much wider than the mere collection of information; this situation underlines the tragic flaws and increasing surveillance within the UK school system. We hope that Biplob and students like him continue to find the courage to question this logic, and that they will receive the support and solidarity of their peers, their parents and teachers.

The following is an interview with Biplob, a Year 7 Pupil at an East London Secondary school, and his experience of the census.

What happened yesterday?

On Friday morning, when I was going into class, we were told almost immediately that we were doing the new school census paper. We were told this was to collect our place of birth and nationality. Our teacher first had to explain what nationality was, as not many students knew what it is. This clearly shows how ridiculous this is, as not many students even know what this was about.

As our teacher was going through it, I asked my teacher if I could refuse. After I asked this, she told everyone that they could refuse. I imagine that had if I had not asked, she would not have stated it.

I then followed by saying that this was about collecting immigration data. The teacher disputed that it was about immigration data, saying it was just part of the school census. I told the class that this data could be pulled out by anybody and potentially linked to their name and address. My teacher continued to dispute this, and said that no data collected from the school would be given to any other person or organisation, other than the government.

Our learning mentor for Year 7 came into the room looking for someone. My teacher asked her where she thought the data was going. The learning mentor said that its just going to the government, and that it was intended to just be added to our records. After she left the room, everybody continued to sign the census despite what I had said.

I did refuse, but felt it was pointless because I was the only one.

Do you think your teachers knew anything about the census, where the data was going, and what the purpose of it was?

They didn’t know. This is shown from the fact that they called it the census paper, and had to look up info from an email. I concluded that they had no information about what this was about.

Do you think that, had the teachers known, they would have treated it differently?

Had they known, some teachers would have still gone along with it, fearing their jobs on the line. Others would have appealed to deeper morals and refused.

What do you think of the reaction of your classmates?

Most of the class understood what I was saying, and believed me. They understood it as a debatable issue, around opinions, even though this is a fact. They took it as a debate.

Why do you think no-one followed you in refusing to sign it?

Due to the regimentation of the school, and the constant reminder that the schools ideas are always good for you there is the perception that if you refused, you would be punished for your ‘disloyalty’.

Some people, especially those speaking worse English, thought it was best to just keep their mouth shut and do it, without fully understanding the issues. It seems like BECAUSE they did not fully understand, it was better to just go ahead and do it.

Others, felt that it would not affect them, and just did it despite me telling them they did not have to. Whenever opposition is raised, in this schooling system, students are taught to obey and listen to the teachers.

How do you feel about this implementation of collecting immigration data at school?

It’s a strategy by the government to not only collect data, but also to brainwash children at a young age to obey the state.

I had spoken about it with my mother about this happening before it happened at my school. It didn’t feel that bad, because it was not worse than many of the lessons I had to endure linked to Prevent. I was shocked they where doing it so early and that it was pushed around as something not very important. The teacher handed out some forms to pass around, asking us to fill them out and sign, making it seem as if it was just a normal class agreement, or informal document. When I refused, the teacher put the blame on me, singling me out and pointing at me directly, saying “you are choosing to do this…” as though I was doing something wrong.

None of our parents were told.

Why did you refuse? Why did you feel it was pointless? What do you think can be done to have more people ‘resist’ this census?

I refused because I didn’t want to do this. It was a form of protest against the system. I also felt that I didn’t really know what it was about, and didn’t want to sign it because i didn’t know where it was going.

I felt it was pointless that I refused because there are 300 year 7 students in my school, and 1500 in the whole school and I am pretty sure I was one of only a few who refused. Having a protest with 1/1500 is a very small protest, that has very little impact. Despite my opposition to this paper, it was a very small opposition compared to the total amount of students.

More education about these issues is needed. We need some form of information in schools, such as leaflets, or discussions, debates, and so on. Groups like ABC, or Anti Raids could help out with it. However I think to get kids involved we need to bring in some incentive, such as missing school. This data collection could easily be a valid reason for a school strike. Not only would it be a clear political statement, but also, for us pupils, it would be a reason to miss school. A holiday almost!

The next census collection date is planned for 19th January 2017. For more information on resisting it, check out Against Borders for Children.

What is the Anti Raids Network?

Groups and individuals involved in the Anti Raids Network recently met to reaffirm our principles and clarify these for people interested in getting involved. The following statement was agreed.

What is the Anti Raids Network?

Every day people are resisting immigration raids in their homes, workplaces and neighbourhoods. The aim of the Anti Raids Network (ARN) is solely to gather and spread information which could be used to oppose raids. Information includes alerts about raids, practical and legal resources, and stories and examples of resistance.

This is not the only initiative

ARN does not claim to organise or speak on behalf of those involved in this struggle against raids. Indeed, most of the people resisting raids will never have heard of ARN. ARN welcomes the creation of new initiatives against raids.

Diversity of tactics

People fight raids in many different ways. To give just a few examples: giving out legal information in different languages; running info-stalls to talk about raids in our neighbourhoods; gathering neighbours to challenge raid squads; helping people at risk to get away; physically stopping arrest vans; resisting inside detention centres, and supporting their struggles; organising in workplaces … and much more. ARN stands in solidarity with all those resisting raids, whatever ways they choose to fight. While individuals and groups may have their own different views about what tactics work best, ARN will not put out statements condemning any actions against raids.

Do it yourself

The network strongly supports resistance based on “doing it yourself”. That is, we all are most powerful when we join together in our streets, workplaces, and neighbourhoods, build up solidarity, and take action for ourselves. We do not work with political parties.

Decentralised self-organisation

Individuals or groups involved in ARN can act for themselves without seeking permission or consensus from the whole network. We ask only that those using the ARN name (1) support this and the earlier basic statement of principles, and (2) don’t claim to represent the whole network. Within that framework, any one is free to set up their own “Anti Raids” initiative: diversity of views, ideas, materials, etc. is encouraged!

There are a few network-wide resources, for example: the central Anti Raids blog; email; and twitter accounts. The main purpose of these is to act as a general contact point and to spread basic information and alerts about raids. They can also act as platforms to publish ideas and opinions coming from individuals and groups within the network. They are not there to promote one “central” or “consensus” Anti Raids position, and may reflect a diversity of positions (again, so long as they hold to the shared basic principles).

No leaders

We are against hierarchy: that is, we don’t want to have leaders, rather we should all take responsibility to organise ourselves as equals. We are against both formal leadership roles and “informal” hierarchical structures. Anyone who dominates others should be challenged.

Openness

The network is open to anyone who shares the basic principles. The participation of people whose immigration status puts them at most direct risk from immigration raids is encouraged and supported. But migrants should not have to stand alone in this struggle, we are all implicated in this fight. All who participate in the Network should do so as equals, treating each other with respect, directness and honesty.

Please see here for more on how to get involved in the Anti Raids Network.

Confronting the Raids: Story #2

The second in our series of personal accounts of people who’ve stood up to the officers. We think it’s important that people share their stories, to give courage and solidarity to others, and to show that you don’t need to be an ‘Activist’, a legal eagle, or a big tough guy to stand up to them. If you confront a raid and would like to share your story, please write a short account and we will publish it anonymously (unless otherwise stated).

At about half 7 on Thursday evening, saw a guy coming out of the big tesco on Morning Lane wearing full navy blue – his shirt had unmarked epaulettes so I thought he might be from immigration. He walked towards 3 immigration enforcement vans that were parked together in the car park. A group of them were clustered around the vans, most of them also in unmarked epaulettes.

As I walked past I caught the eye of one of them who I recognised from the other day – she waved over and said ‘hi Mary’ and so did the others. She and another guy came over for a chat. The guy was wearing full police style protection vest and badge. I mentioned this and he said “you know, work”. When I asked where they were going he said they were finished and going home for the day. I asked if they had a warrant for the raids today and he said yes, then launched into a massive rant.

“We just carry out the law, and the law isn’t there for us to question. You voted in the election, and you reap what you sow. I don’t vote in elections because whoever the government is, I just have to carry out what they say”. He talked for a long time – he said that his job is to protect people like me, just like the police. “I’m paid with taxpayers money, and if I don’t do my job you’ll be complaining. It’s like the police – you might hate the police but if somebody hurts you, who’s the first people you’re gonna go to?”

He talked for a while longer, saying that it’s written in the bible and the scripture of every religion that all people are equal. I asked if he meant all people with a British passport and he said “it’s not about the British passport. You’re just on one track but we have to think not just about ourselves and our lives but about everyone”. It didn’t make much sense to me to be honest but he continued in that vein for a while, at least a minute and a half. I said we were probably never going to agree and he said that’s the best thing about Britain, you’re allowed to disagree. Then we said goodbye and they left, I didn’t see where to.

Confronting the Raids: Story #1

As previously reported, at times it only takes a few people coming out and confronting Immigration Enforcement to get them to leave. These acts of personal courage build on previous actions by other people – from Southall to East Street, to Peckham and Shadwell. Anecdotally, we know of other cases of more low key, but no less important, resistance. We cannot know about every incident of refusal or rebellion to the Home Office bullies, or the identities of those involved, but we can be sure that every act of defiance adds to the last – and that in our collectivity we can keep the ‘racist van’ and its officers at bay.

This is the first in a series of personal accounts of people who’ve stood up to the officers. We think it’s important that people share their stories, to give courage and solidarity to others, and to show that you don’t need to be an ‘Activist’, a legal eagle, or a big tough guy to stand up to them. If you confront a raid and would like to share your story, please write a short account and we will publish it anonymously (unless otherwise stated).

I saw them parked on Clapton square on a Tuesday afternoon, two vans. It was the first time I’d seen them in my immediate area. The first had two people in the front and another in the back, and a big dent under the back wheel arch. The second had two people in the front and nobody in the back. I stopped my bike right in front of them to take pictures of the vans and tweet them with the location to anti raids network. A second later they started up their engines and drove off. The passenger in the first van smiled and waved goodbye at me, so I waved back. They turned round the corner and I followed them, had to wait awkwardly in a layby while they waited at the lights.

When we got round the corner they passed, so I sped up to catch them at the next lights. When they stopped, the passenger in the front car shouted out “Hi Mary!” in a sing song tone of voice, so I cycled over. I had no idea what to say so I just waited while the one in the passenger seat rolled down her window. After a tiny pause she said “Don’t you have better things to do with your evening than follow people around?” I said no, I didn’t really. Then I said “I wish you didn’t do the job you do, it makes me sad. And you’re ruining families.” They smiled and didn’t say anything. Then I asked how they knew my name, and they said from the tweet I’d sent. The one in the passenger seat held up her phone and smiled. I said “I’m glad you’re keeping up with modern technology if not with modern times.” Because I didn’t know what else to say. They scoffed. I was too angry to follow them safely so I cycled off. The officers in the second van watched closely as I cycled away.

This account suggests that officers are now so worried when someone challenges them that they are checking social media for alerts. Keep up the pressure!