On the 13th of May 2021, Mechanic Lakhvir Singh and Chef Sumit Sehdev found themselves detained by Home Office enforcement officers, on suspicion of overstaying their visas as part of an early morning raid. They were held in a van, parked on Kenmure Street in Glasgow and would remain there for almost 8 hours.
While these raids have become a common practice for the Home Office as a method of enforcement, what happened on Kenmure Street was certainly not the expected outcome. While Singh and Sehdev waited for the enforcement officers to take them away from their home, a crowd began to gather outside. Some had been made aware of the raid by the ‘Glasgow No Evictions Network’ and others were local community members. At its peak, the crowd reached some 200 people, there to protest against the detention of the two men.
After almost 8 hours of detention, Singh and Sehdev were eventually set free, thanks in no small part to the actions of protestors who had surrounded the van. They used their bodies to block any avenue that the enforcement officers had to remove the men, with one protestor going so far as to climb under the van making it impossible for it to drive away.
Although it’s important to note that the enforcement officers were following the UK’s policy, as both men are currently residing here on expired visas; there are a few points that need to be discussed in order to understand the situation.
Singh and Sehdev have lived in the UK for the past decade, they have worked, built lives, made friends, and as was demonstrated by the support they received, became part of a local community. Singh has been active in trying to renew his visa after its expiry in 2016, but his applications have been rejected by the Home Office, despite him being a productive, contributing part of our society. This prompts the question, after 10 years working and living within UK communities, should Singh not be said to have earned the right to call himself part of UK society?
As IOHR have covered in the past via IOHR TV, Singh and Sehdev are just two examples of the large amount of migrants who have found themselves without documented status, having previously resided in the UK on granted visas. That this situation is so difficult to amend should be no surprise in a country with an immigration system that is slow to respond to the increasingly complex situations that dictate the needs of migrants and refugees.
It is no secret that since 2012, the Home Office has pursued a campaign to create what it called the ‘Hostile Environment’. Ultimately the policy seeks to make the UK an unappealing and unwelcoming environment for those immigrants that the UK’s immigration policy doesn’t deem as a benefit, and it’s not difficult to see that applications like Singh’s could fall into this category.
While the UK government has pursued this policy, its sentiments have not been equally absorbed throughout the countries of the union. There is research to suggest that the Scottish public have a softer stand on immigration than the rest of the UK, which it seems is also echoed by Nicola Sturgeons SNP party. The SNP have been campaigning for an immigration policy better suited to Scotland’s needs for some time and their proposals seem to be overall more humane than those currently in practice in the UK.
Their proposals to remove the Immigration Health Surcharge and the Immigration Skills Charge would actually have the potential to lower immigration related income that Holyrood receives. In real terms, this shows that the SNP recognise the value that immigration can provide to Scotland, but it can also have another effect. It helps to change the narrative that an immigrant’s value lies only in the resource they can bring to the country.
What is also clear however, is that the people who gathered on Kenmure Street that day rejected the view of immigrants as a commodity. The protestors shouted, ‘These are our neighbours, let them go!’, and it is in this message that we can see the true lesson to be learned. The people surrounding that van understood the basic truth that within that home office van, were human beings. They recognised the humanity that can be so easily removed from conversations around immigration.
Terms like ‘Illegal’, ‘crisis’, ‘flood’ and ‘influx’ are so often associated with immigration in the media that this dehumanisation has become commonplace. In calling Singh and Sehdev their neighbours, the protestors actively combat language that only serves to criminalise a person because of their immigration status. A simple change in language in this way can cause a shift in perception which is so vitally important in a nation where anti-immigration sentiment is so prevalent.
It is this that we must take away from the scenes in Kenmure street, borders exist to divide nations, but they have no bearing on our shared humanity. Glasgow reminds us that neither national lines, a place of birth or indeed the walls of an enforcement van can truly separate the humanity we share. It is up to every one of us to follow their example and demonstrate that all truly are welcome.
About the author:
Tom Huggins-Teasdale is a political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service