Glasgow protesters praised for blocking UK immigration officers

Hundreds surrounded a deportation van and ultimately secured the temporary release of two men detained by British immigration officers.

Hundreds of protesters prevented immigration officials from carrying the pair away by surrounding the vehicle and blocking its exit path [Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images]

Hundreds of Glaswegians rallied in the Scottish city on Thursday to win the temporary release of two men who had been detained by British immigration officers, earning widespread praise from activists, experts, the refugee community and some sections of the media.

Video footage from the scene in Kenmure Street showed two men emerging from the back of a van belonging to the United Kingdom’s Home Office, which sets the country’s immigration rules, hours after the pair had reportedly been detained from an apartment in the local area.

The Home Office said the men had been detained over “suspected immigration offences”.

But about 200 protesters prevented immigration officials from carrying the men away by surrounding the vehicle and blocking its exit path.

One demonstrator climbed under the van to stop it from moving, while others nearby stood and sat in the road. Some protesters chanted, “These are our neighbours, let them go.”

The demonstration forced a standoff with the immigration officials and Police Scotland, who were called to the scene at about 10am local time (09:00 GMT).

After about seven hours, the Scottish police force decided to release the men on bail, pending investigation.

They said they wanted “to protect the safety, public health and wellbeing of all people involved in the detention and subsequent protest”.

Large gatherings are currently banned in Scotland as part of coronavirus lockdown measures.

‘Heroic act of resistance’

Many celebrated the protesters’ efforts, with some calling the demonstration a “heroic act of resistance” against the Home Office and UK immigration laws, which have long been criticised by human rights groups as unduly harsh and unfairly implemented.

The National newspaper in Scotland, which supports the idea of Scottish secession from the UK, ran with a provocative front-page headline: “Glasgow 1, ‘Team UK’: 0 – People power forces despicable Home Office to back down.”

Under successive Conservative Party governments determined to make the UK a “hostile environment” for undocumented migration, rules have been tightened over the past decade.

Others described the protest as a “fantastic display of community solidarity”.

Sharing a video of the men’s release, one Twitter user said: “When us humans put our minds to it, we are capable of such gorgeous acts of solidarity.”

Another added: “This is incredible. A brutal deportation prevented by quick-thinking and courageous neighbours. Truly inspirational.”

Many social media users also criticised UK Home Secretary Priti Patel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party government.

“Events in Glasgow yesterday and widespread support for both protesters and victims across the UK are a useful reminder, that there are an awful lot of great, decent people in this nation who hate Priti Patel’s … hateful anti-migrant policies,” one Twitter user said.

Another said: “People power at its best! Well done the people of Glasgow. Priti Patel this is what humanity looks like.”

‘Hostile environment not welcome here’

Thursday’s scenes also gained the attention of several prominent Scottish politicians, exposing a deepening divide between the country’s devolved government, led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Johnson’s administration.

Sturgeon, who wants to wrest immigration powers from Westminster, welcomed Police Scotland’s actions in releasing the two men and blamed Johnson’s government for what she called a “dangerous situation”.

Sturgeon, whose Scottish Parliament electoral district includes the area where the incident took place, also said she had complained to UK officials and asked them to avoid such situations in the future.

Her pro-independence Scottish National Party, which won the largest number of seats in an election for the Scottish Parliament last week, has campaigned for Scotland’s government to receive powers to grant immigration visas.

“No assurances were given – and frankly no empathy shown – when I managed to speak to a junior minister earlier,” she said in a statement.

Humza Yousaf, the devolved Scottish government’s justice secretary, tweeted: “I am pleased Police Scot intervened on public safety & health grounds to release individuals involved. But let me be clear, the Hostile Environment created by UK Govt is not welcome here.”


But the Home Office said it would continue with its plans to speed up deportations of “those who have entered the UK illegally” as part of its so-called New Plan for Immigration.

“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,” a spokesperson for the department said in a statement. “The operation in Glasgow was conducted in relation to suspected immigration offences and the two Indian nationals complied with officers at all times.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies