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‘These are our Neighbours’: Three years on from Kenmure Street, what’s changed?

Publication: Greater Govanhill

Three years ago, Glasgow united to halt a dawn raid on Kenmure Street. Activist Tabassum Niamat and Human Rights Coordinator Pinar Aksu revisit the day, discussing challenges in the immigration system and highlighting hostility in current policies.

The Kenmure St protests | Photo by Simon Murpy
Detainess released in the Kenmure St protests | Photo by Simon Murpy

It’s now three years since the people of Glasgow came together in unity to challenge hostility and stop the dawn raid on Kenmure Street. In this article, we would like to share our reflections on the power of community action, resistance to the hostile environment at Kenmure Street, and what people are experiencing with hostility within immigration and protesting policies.

On 13 May 2021, just after 9:30 am, we received multiple texts. They seemed urgent, and upon reading them, it became clear a dawn raid was taking place, and local activists and community members were being called to action. This also happened to be the day of Eid, and the masjids were holding Eid prayers all across Glasgow; one just happened to be taking place within a couple of yards from where the immigration enforcement van had pulled up. Those prayers were disrupted, and there was a sense of righteous anger that the police and Home Office were hijacking a special day.

Arriving there at 9:45 am, a man had already gotten under the van; later the press named him the ‘Van Man’. There were around five people at that point and everyone was frantically texting and tweeting to inform others. What started as a few protestors soon multiplied to hundreds. Against all the odds, this became the most peaceful almighty standoff between the Home Office and the ordinary folk of Pollokshields, Govanhill, and the people of Glasgow.

No one knew early on who the men were, but as far as anyone else was concerned, their race and nationality did not matter; they were one of us. Along with hundreds of ordinary people, we took on the Home Office, protesting for eight hours and we won! People power in action!

Read more: Remembering Kenmure Street

For the first time, many South Asians saw people come out for them. This was not a race issue, but growing up in a country where most of our institutions have acknowledged racism is rife, this day felt like South Asians were being seen and supported. We were one people!

Since 2021, three key developments have occurred. Firstly, the Nationality and Borders Act (NABA) 2022 created offshore asylum processing centres, criminalising people when they arrive in the UK by boat and many other areas which undermine human rights. NABA also threatens the rights of second and third-generation children of migrants to have their citizenship revoked. Being born in Britain does not make people British enough according to the Home Office. Being British is a privilege and not a right. 

Along with this, the Public Order Act 2023 essentially makes protesting harder. If the Kenmure Street protest were to happen again, these two bills alone could make hundreds of thousands of people born in Britain lose British citizenship or even become stateless if the birthplace of our forefathers does not accept us either. The offences that could strip you of your citizenship are so ambiguous that one can surmise that none of us who can trace our ancestry by a couple of generations is safe. Our right to protest has been diminished. The rights and freedoms of most activists and ordinary folk have been eroded. The Home Office believes they are tackling far-left anti-democratic organisations that have a common ground with Islamist groups. In support of this Rishi Sunak stood outside 10 Downing Street and said: “The home secretary has instructed that if those here on a visa choose to spew hate or protest or seek to intimidate people, we will remove their right to be here”. 

Secondly, there is the Illegal Migration Act 2023, which further violates the right to seek asylum and movement. It is a violation of international protections and the Refugee Convention.

Finally, the Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill passed parliament last month and it is an attempt by the Conservative Party to implement an offshore asylum processing centre in Rwanda and end the right to claim asylum in the UK.

Authorities planned to detain asylum seekers who attended routine meetings at immigration offices or bail appointments. As well as conducting surprise pickups of individuals nationwide during a two-week operation. This prompted Glasgow’s No Evictions Network to recirculate information on community gathering and share information for their public helpline. Over the last two weeks, a self-organised group monitored vehicles as well as migrants entering the Home Office building, located in the south of the city in an attempt to prevent individuals from being deported.

These recent changes not only violate the rights of people seeking asylum and refuge, but they also threaten international protection and human rights for everyone. It is an action to divide communities, remove solidarity and create structures that undermine protection for people in our communities.

In May 2021, the people of Glasgow united in numbers, and minds and came together to say “These are our neighbours, let them be, let them free’. And now, we need this solidarity and unity in our communities more than ever.”