Early on the 13th May 2021 – on the day of Eid al-Fitr – the UK Home Office Border Agency carried out a raid in which they attempted to forcibly detain two men in the Southside area of Glasgow. The city of Glasgow has the highest Muslim population of any city in Scotland, with 5% of its residents identifying as Muslim in the 2011 census. Southside Central and Pollokshields (where Lakvir Singh and Sumit Sehdevi reside) are the wards with the largest population of Muslim residents.
By mid-morning on the 13th May, hundreds of people had surrounded the vehicle on Kenmure Street and began protesting for the mens release. This led to intervention from Police Scotland and intense stand-offs throughout the day between protestors and police. As a result of the collective action of Glasgow residents and neighbours, both Lakhvir Singh and Sumit Sehdevi were released, and both men were walked to a local mosque where they were greeted by family and friends1.
The attempted detention of the two men has been met with much hostility and criticism from members of Scottish Members of Parliament and UK residents alike. For example, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar (who is also the first Muslim MP to lead a major UK political party), raised issue with the timing of the raid. He said “it is particularly unacceptable that this is happening during a pandemic, in an area that has a spike in cases and on the day of Eid”. Wafa Shaheen, of the Scottish Refugee Council similarly argued, forcing people “their homes on the first day of Eid, with neighbours and families trying to honour the religious celebration in peace, shows – at best – a serious lack of cultural sensitivity and awareness”2. Whilst the Home Office immigration policy has come under heavy criticism before, further issues have been raised in regards to its hostility and it has escalated questions surrounding its applicability in todays Scotland3.
First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon issued a damning condemnation of the actions of the Home Office yesterday. In a twitter thread she wrote, “I disagree fundamentally with @ukhomeoffice immigration policy but even that aside this action was unacceptable. To act this way, in the heart of a Muslim community as they celebrate Eid, and in an area experiencing a Covid outbreak was a health and safety risk”4. Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf also added that he was “angry and disgusted” at the actions of the Home Office. He further stated that this “Hostile Environment created by the UK Government is not welcome here in Scotland”5. On Friday 14th May 20201, Yousaf publicly urged Glasgow Labour MPs to join the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Green Party in a progressive alliance to “resist the UK Government’s draconian immigration policies”. In his letter, he further stresses the need for political party differences to be put aside, and for the focus to be on devolving current asylum policies in order to create more progressive systems based on compassion, not suspicion.
These concerns regarding the hostility of UK immigration policies also come at a time when the UK has seen a rise in racism, hate crimes and Islamophobia6. Not only is the Conservative party itself under current investigation for its failure to tackle Islamophobia within the party7, but the governments “new plan for immigration” has been condemned by the UN refugee agency as inhumane8. A Home Office spokesperson however, responded to the protests in Glasgow and sought to dispute these claims with a public statement:
“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 UK Government continues to tackle illegal migration in all its forms and our New Plan for Immigration will speed up the removal of those who have entered the UK illegally”9.
Matthew Rycroft, a permanent Secretary for the Home Office echoed this statement in a response to criticisms of his government department. Rycroft sought to challenge the characterisation of the Home Office as “cruel, paranoid, failing” and that a lot of the current problems within the Home Office are a direct result of the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. He refers to the Home Office as a “beacon of light for the vulnerable” that’s new values of being “compassionate, respectful, courageous, collaborative – set a different path for the future”. This new path, he adds, show that the department has learnt it lesson from the Windrush scandal10 whilst still delivering on the “priorities that the public care and voted for”11. Contrastingly, Sabhir Zazi, CEO of the Scottish Refugee Council, tweeted that in previous weeks a letter was sent by 76 Scottish civil society organisations raising concerns about the new immigration plan. This, along with the community action of the community action and celebration on the 13th, he argues highlight “the gulf between public opinion and policy formation”. In other words, the current government policy of dawn raids is not accepted or supported by the public, with Scotland arguing strongly to have control over its own immigration policy12.
Yet, despite the success of the protests and release of Lakvir and Sumit, and resistance they have faced, the Home Office have stated they will continue forward with its new policy plans to speed up deportations of “those who have entered the UK illegally”12.