James Doleman witnessed an extraordinary confrontation in Glasgow between Border Force officials and a spontaneous local protest

It started off as another routine deportation raid and ended with thousands of local residents cheering and clapping after street protest, and political pressure, forced the authorities into a humiliating climbdown.

Kenmure Street in Pollokshields is part of the diverse parliamentary constituency of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the heart of Glasgow’s Muslim community. Yesterday was Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan and one of the most important dates in the Muslim calendar. 

In the morning, local residents noticed a Home Office immigration enforcement van, parked in the area. It quickly became apparent that a raid was in progress and that two refugees were being held in the van after being taken from their home. A small group surrounded the vehicle chanting, “They’re our neighbours – let them go,” with one lying under the wheels of the vehicle to stop it moving, a position he would stay in for seven hours.

Protester under van:. Photo: PA Wire

As the morning went on, the crowd increased until the police officers guarding the van were completely surrounded. There was no violence. The protestors simply sat on the road creating a barrier that the police could only have smashed their way through with horses and batons. 

The stand off began, and as word spread more and more people joined the protest, with some setting up a refreshment area with water and food given by local businesses.

Photo: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Alamy Live News.

By the afternoon Nicola Sturgeon, whose Government has no power over immigration policy, was tweeting that the raid created “a dangerous and unacceptable situation”. The Scottish Justice Minister, Humza Yousaf, said he was urgently contacting the government in London. Meanwhile, the crowd, which was now over 1,000 was spilling over into side streets and showing no signs of giving up.

Then, at 5pm, civil rights lawyer Aamer Anwar announced to the crowd that an agreement had been made and Police Scotland had told the Home Office the detention was no longer happened because of “public safety reasons”. The two detainees came blinking out of the back of the van after seven hours inside and were told no further action would be taken against them, for that day at least.

As the men were led to the local mosque, the crowd began to cheer and applaud, and then was a slight pause – as if people couldn’t believe they had won the victory – before the cheering redoubled in volume.

It was a remarkable day, even for a city like Glasgow which prides itself on its history of street protest. Not only did people peacefully resist, but they also won – at least for now.

The question is with the right of protest under attack all over the country, are these events in Glasgow a one-off, or a sign of more to come?

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