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How Glasgow’s people foiled an immigration raid and stood for community

The Pollokshields protest against an attempted dawn raid was ‘a rare win in the fight against the hostile environment’

Last Thursday (May 13) in the heart of Glasgow’s Southside, where its close-knit Muslim community was preparing to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, UK Immigration Enforcement (UKIE) officers detained two Indian men in the latest instance of resurgent immigration raids sweeping the city. For over eight hours, Sumit Sehdev and Lakhvir Singh were enclosed in the dark, cramped immigration enforcement van not knowing their fate. They were unaware that the van would soon be surrounded by a community refusing to let their neighbours be the latest victims of the Home Office’s hostile environment.

Police Scotland officers were called to Kenmure Street that morning by UKIE officers when concerned onlookers in Pollokshields sprang into action. 31-year-old Jamie* had learned of the dawn raid van lurking in his street below from neighbours in his building’s group chat. Jamie, still in his pyjamas, soon joined those starting to block the van downstairs — with one activist already lying underneath the van to stop it from taking the men away.

“Just as I arrived there was another passerby who just happened to be walking up the street, saw what was going on and sat down,” he says. “Then someone with a bike who was cycling past came and sat, and the next thing I knew there were 200 people.” Jamie says that watching the crowd grow to roughly a thousand people on the Pollokshields street at times felt “like an out-of-body experience”, but was ultimately unsurprising. After all, he adds, “What did they expect from the city of the Glasgow Girls?” 

Roza Salih, whose voice often rang out on megaphones across the crowd that day, is one of seven women who formed the Glasgow Girls as schoolgirls in 2005 — protesting the detention of their friend Agnesa Murselaj and her family in a dawn raid after fleeing Kosovo for asylum in the UK five years prior. After successfully stopping the Murselaj family’s deportation, the group’s members have been fighting for asylum seeker and refugee rights in Glasgow ever since.

For Roza, Thursday’s events brought back memories of campaigning tirelessly to save her friends from dawn raids tearing apart Scottish communities in the early 2000s, as she led the crowd in deafening chants of ‘these are our neighbours, let them go!’.

“It was just overwhelming,” she says. “I got really emotional personally because as one of the Glasgow Girls I‘ve gone through that kind of experience firsthand, of Home Office treatment and friends of mine being detained. I was fortunate that I wasn‘t detained when I was an asylum seeker, but our case was refused so many times.” 

“Sometimes you’re like, ‘Why do I keep fighting all the time?’” she adds. “But then you see something so victorious as people showing solidarity like that to the community in Glasgow and to asylum seekers. It was all so uplifting.” 

As Eid celebrations were put on hold to protest and more people appeared from all over Glasgow, supplying everything from water bottles and snacks to cups of tea and PPE, key organisers including the No Evictions Network continued to spread the word far and wide — encouraging anyone who could to join them as police presence increased in Pollokshields.

One No Evictions Network protester recalls “tense moments” from the day as Police Scotland officers, flanked by dozens of police vans, cars, and horses situated nearby, tried to move protesters. “Some of us spent the day urging that the people stuck in the van receive medical attention but when paramedics arrived the police used this as an excuse to push protesters out of the way,” she says. 

“At one point the police attempted to kettle hundreds of protesters surrounding the van, pushing some to the ground. The kettle was quickly resisted and pushed back, but these were moments that felt like they had real potential for the police to ramp up their dispersal tactics with brutality and violence.” 

Police Scotland’s “antagonising presence” on Thursday, the No Evictions protester adds, highlights the continuing need for communities to organise against racist immigration policy and the forces upholding them in Scotland. “To prevent the events of (Thursday) happening again we need to support our neighbours and be ready to challenge the fabricated authority of the police and immigration control,” she says. “As (Thursday) has proven: the people will win!” 

Just after 5pm, Roza announced to Kenmure Street that human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar had helped to negotiate the release of the two men from the van. The crowd was jubilant, but reluctant to simply disperse and go home as Police Scotland requested. “Everyone was like nope, we‘re not moving – we don’t trust you,” says 24-year-old resident of Pollokshields, Alex Reynolds. Having rushed to the scene that morning after seeing a No Evictions Network post on Instagram, Alex was one of many documenting the protest on social media, watching as the police grew in size and force throughout the day. So when the van doors opened and the two men emerged, protesters clapped and cheered but cautiously followed the escort en masse down the street to the nearby mosque. 

Despite the Home Office’s persistence in trying to displace and deport those seeking asylum and refuge across the UK, and indeed attempts of the far right to divide multicultural communities in Glasgow with racist attacks and disinformation over the past year, the strength of Pollokshields’ community response and resistance to this on Thursday, the No Evictions protester adds, “is a moment we will all remember for years to come: a rare win in the fight against the hostile environment.”

*Name has been changed