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.”
Scottish police ordered the release of two Indian men who had been detained by British immigration officials, after hundreds of protesters in Glasgow blocked the path of a van carrying the detainees https://t.co/DBfEF12BVu pic.twitter.com/0M1hJzfr2X
— Reuters (@Reuters) May 14, 2021
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.”
Tomorrow’s front page 🗞️
‘Team UK’: 0
People power forces despicable Home Office to back down pic.twitter.com/9iKn3I8IVW
— The National (@ScotNational) May 13, 2021
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.”
This is incredible.
Two refugees were detained by immigration enforcement in Glasgow, Scotland. Neighbors and activists surrounded the van they were detained in until they were released. pic.twitter.com/v5sRhVq7gh
— Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) May 13, 2021
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.
The blocking of a raid in Glasgow shows what grassroots anti-racist resistance in the UK is founded on: a profound, belly-deep knowledge that we can & must fight back (literally) against huge structures of oppression that seek to divide our communities. No justice, no peace ✊🏽
— Leah Cowan (@La_Cowan) May 14, 2021
Another said: “People power at its best! Well done the people of Glasgow. Priti Patel this is what humanity looks like.”
People power at its best!🌈❤️👍 well done the people of Glasgow. Priti Patel this is what humanity looks like.
— Paul Fitzgerald (@PaulFitz58) May 13, 2021
‘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.
1/ Today’s events were entirely down to @ukhomeoffice actions. @policescotland were in an invidious position – they do not assist in the removal of asylum seekers but do have a duty to protect public safety. They act independently of ministers, but I support this decision https://t.co/9SCNGa6tpy
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 13, 2021
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.”
Having spent hours trying to get Home Office to abandon their operation, without success, 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. pic.twitter.com/fNUcBvmHei
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) May 13, 2021
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.”