Campaigners have hailed a victory for Glaswegian solidarity and told the UK home office “you messed with the wrong city” as two men detained by UK Immigration Enforcement were released back into their community after a day of protest.
Police Scotland intervened to free the men after a tense day-long stand-off between immigration officials and hundreds of local residents, who surrounded their van in a residential street on the southside of Glasgow to stop the detention of the men during Eid al-Fitr.
Staff from immigration enforcement are believed to have swooped on a property in Pollokshields early on Thursday morning and detained people.
By mid-morning, a crowd of about 200 protesters surrounded the vehicle, preventing it from driving away, and chanting “these are our neighbours, let them go”, with one protester lying under the van to prevent it driving off.
“I’m just overwhelmed by Glasgow’s solidarity for refugees and asylum seekers,” said Roza Salih, shouting to be heard over the jubilant shouts of “refugees are welcome here”. She added: “This is a victory for the community.”
Ms Salih, who had been at the protest since the morning, is a Kurdish refugee and co-founded the Glasgow Girls campaign in 2005 with fellow pupils to prevent the deportation of a school friend and fight against dawn raids.
Earlier Ms Salih questioned why the widely condemned practice of dawn raids appeared to be recurring 15 years later in Glasgow, the only dispersal city for asylum seekers in Scotland. She also highlighted the jarring impact of carrying out such an action during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival marking the end of Ramadan, in one of the most multicultural areas of the city and within the constituency of the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
As cheering protesters escorted the men to the local mosque, Pinar Aksu, of Maryhill Integration Network said: “They messed with the wrong city.”
“This is a revolution of people coming together in solidarity for those who others have turned away from,” she said.
Ms Aksu described how hundreds more supporters had arrived at the scene as the afternoon progressed. “This is just the start. When there is another dawn raid in Glasgow, the same thing will happen.”
Ms Aksu added: “For this to happen on Eid, which is meant to be a time of peaceful celebration, is horrifying. It is no coincidence that it is taking place when a new immigration bill is being prepared.
“We also need answers from Police Scotland about their involvement. We have already written to the home secretary asking urgently to clarify whether the decisions to carry out immigration enforcement raids, including dawn raids, represents a change in the policy by the UK government.”
Shortly after 5pm, Police Scotland released an updated statement, saying that Supt Mark Sutherland had decided to release the detained men “in order to protect the safety, public health and wellbeing of those involved in the detention and subsequent protest”. The force asked those at the scene to disperse from the area as soon as possible.
A spokesperson said earlier: “Police Scotland does not assist in the removal of asylum seekers. Officers are at the scene to police the protest and to ensure public safety.”
The second dawn raid in Glasgow within a month appears to show a further escalation of the UK’s hostile environment policy. While the SNP government has argued strongly for Scotland to have control over its own immigration policy, not least because of the country’s unique depopulation pressures, it remains reserved to Westminster.
Sources told the Guardian the immigration status of the individuals detained was unclear.
The protests took place as new MSPs were sworn in to what has been described as Holyrood’s most diverse ever parliament, taking their oaths in British Sign Language, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, Doric, Scots, Gaelic, Welsh and Orcadian, and after an election in which refugees had voting rights for the first time in Scotland.
Politicians expressed their solidarity with the residents on social media. Following the men’s release, first minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “I am proud to represent a constituency and lead a country that welcomes and shows support to asylum seekers and refugees.”
She added that the police had been “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.”
Condemning the home office action, Ms Sturgeon added: “To act in this way, in the heart of a Muslim community as they celebrated Eid, and in an area experiencing a Covid outbreak was a health and safety risk.
“Both as MSP and as FM, I will be demanding assurances from the UK government that they will never again create, through their actions, such a dangerous situation.”
A home office spokesperson said: “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. The operation in Glasgow was conducted in relation to suspected immigration offences and the two Indian nationals complied with officers at all times.”