• Wed. Feb 28th, 2024

Protestors in Nicolson Square Block Attempted Immigration ‘Raid’

ByNoushka Summerfield

May 11, 2022
Home Office Immigration Officers leaving through a police corridor as protestors shout "shame on you"

At around 5:30PM on Friday the 6th of May, an Edinburgh resident saw two unlabelled vans with ‘immigration support’ signs in the windscreen pull up alongside the restaurants between Nicolson Square Gardens and George Square, and several Home Office Immigration Enforcement officers jump out. 

The person assumed this was an attempt to detain and deport someone who was resident at the address, and decided to spread the word around to the wider Edinburgh community to attempt to resist this. They contacted various activist group chats about the potential immigration raid and deportation, and by 6:10 around 15 people had gathered by the vans. People reached out for support on social media and through their personal networks. 

There was an atmosphere of uncertainty, with people unsure where the immigration officers were and what could be done to help. More people gradually accumulated, and there were discussions around blocking the vans, however, the initial main goal seemed to be to witness the situation and get information to the people being questioned, especially to let them know that they did not have to speak to the immigration officers. 

More people arrived to support, and face masks and snacks were handed around. Chants began to voice their solidarity and to get the attention of passers-by, with people shouting “No borders, No nations, No deportations!” and “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!”

As the call out continued to circulate, more and more people arrived, including legal observers from SCALP (​​Scottish Community & Activist Legal Project), who handed out leaflets detailing legal rights, and even a bagpiper. People began writing protest slogans on the floor in chalk and climbing on top of the vans to prevent them from moving. At the peak of the demonstration, there were estimated to be hundreds of people.

Police began to arrive to assess the situation. Eventually, it became apparent that the Home Office officials were inside San Chuan restaurant with someone that they had detained. People quickly mobilised to block the various exits to the restaurant.

Through word of mouth between protestors, information circulated about the Police being willing to de-arrest the person detained if the protestors stepped away from the vans and let the immigration enforcement officials leave. There seemed to be broad consensus from protestors that this would be the best possible outcome, however, there was also widespread scepticism about the promises of the Police, with one person saying: “If it’s true, it’s the first successful protest I’ve been to”. 

Just before 9pm, the Police formed a line to escort the immigration officials out of the building, and immigration officials left without the person that had been detained, to fierce chants of “Shame!” and “No justice, no peace, no racist Police!”

After the officials left there was jubilation among the crowd, with people cheering and hugging each other.

The scene was reminiscent of the Kenmure Street protests in Glasgow last year, where hundreds of people gathered to prevent the Home Office detaining two men “suspected of immigration offences”, and the men were released after a six hour stand off.

Many protesters described being inspired and galvanised by the experience, with one protestor asserting: 

“Yesterday was a testament to the unparalleled ability of decentralised autonomous groups to get things done. I’m so proud of the incredible solidarity and of everyone for coming together with no preparation and notice. There’s a better world out there when we all take care of each other, and days like today are how we get there.” 

Another said: “It was so intense but I quite literally burst into tears from how beautiful it was.”

The Home Office has later confirmed that two people were found to have been in breach of immigration laws and were placed on immigration bail, releasing a statement saying: 

“It is unacceptable for people to attempt to block legitimate actions of law enforcement as they work to remove those with no right to live or work in the UK. Through our Nationality and Borders Act we are taking steps to fix the broken system to make it fair to those in genuine need and firm on those who seek to abuse it. An operation was carried out in Edinburgh [ yesterday ] and to suggest that protesters had an impact on the outcome is wrong.”

Sources seen by The Student indicate that the people who had been detained were de-arrested and safe for the time being. Both them and the restaurant owner now had information about their rights and contact details for seeking support from activist networks in case they needed it in the future.

Image courtesy of Andrew Perry, https://www.andrewperry.co.uk/