Photos: Thomas Katan
100 people took part in a spontaneous demonstration last night in an attempt to stop immigration officers detaining a worker from the Mini Mart on Chelsea Road, Easton.
What began as a Home Office raid on the Mini Mart quickly escalated to a full-blown blockade and standoff with up to 40 police officers in a scene that was at times tense, angry, and good humoured.
Having detained the individual at about 11pm last night, the immigration officers found themselves facing a crowd of around 50 people chanting “let him out” and blocking the narrow road in Easton. The individual is understood to be a Pakistani national.
The Home Office van with the detainee inside was prevented from leaving when a man clambered on to the roof and declared to loud cheering and applause that he “wasn’t getting down until he [the detained individual] was let go”.
More police arrived to escort the van through the crowd but they were unable to safely bring the man down. The crowd also doubled in size as word spread to show solidarity with the detained man. Chants of “Deport Theresa May” and “No hostile environment in Easton” rang out as the clock edged past midnight.
An attempt to forcefully clear the road was aborted by the police after people lay down in the street, and the police inspector’s megaphone announcements was drowned out by booing and chanting. Police dogs did turn up but were not brought into action.
Some of the police and protestors exchanged banter and conversation that ranged from funny to grave. The impact of austerity, including on the police was repeatedly raised, and how facilitating immigration raids and paying police overtime was “not how we want our taxes spent” as one man put it.
One officer joked that he “felt a lot more comfortable” than at the chaos of a Friday or Saturday night in the city centre. Despite the humorous exchanges, the lines were firmly drawn and at points anger and despair erupted as some protestors remonstrated with police that “immigration is not a crime”.
As the early hours drew on, a few musicians struck up songs as others brought tea and blankets to give to one another.
At around 4.30am the tiring crowd began to dwindle and more police arrived and surrounded the remaining protestors. The police surrounded the remaining crowd and the detained individual was bundled into a police car and reportedly taken to Keynsham police station. At this point the man on the Home Office van got down. He was not arrested. The detainees fate is yet unknown, but as the matter concerns immigration offences he will most likely be transferred to the custody of the Home Office. He may then be taken to one of the notorious for-profit immigration detention centres, where there is no time limit on detention.
The spontaneous show of dissent comes in a year that has been beset by yet more high profile scandals arising from Theresa May’s so-called hostile environment. The approach to immigration enforcement introduced when May was Home Secretary has been blamed for the Windrush scandal that saw decades-long UK residents stripped of rights and even deported, and inhumane practises at detention facilities, among other alleged violations of human rights.
With ‘How to resist immigration raids’ flyers handed out the Home Office may reconsider operational tactics before attempting such an operation in Easton again.
In a statement the police said “We will always facilitate peaceful and lawful protest and we are pleased to say that thanks to the support from our community leaders, and people living locally, the situation was resolved at around 5am this morning when the Immigration Enforcement officers were able to leave the area without incident or injury and without the necessity for any arrests.”