From Croydon to Peckham, activists stand by asylum seekers

The civil disobedience action aimed at frustrating, delaying or even stopping altogether the removal of asylum seekers from their accommodation in south London on to other locations, including deportation to Rwanda, has shifted from Croydon’s Lunar House to Peckham today.

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Bus busted: the delays to the coach at a refugee hostel in Peckham saw it eventually leave empty

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Bus busted: the delays to the coach at a refugee hostel in Peckham saw it eventually leave empty

There, a stand-off had developed by lunchtime when a coach sent to collect asylum seekers and take them to the Bibby Stockholm barge was surrounded by activists. Hundreds of protesters were at the scene, some placing hire bikes under the coach to blockade it.

The Bibby Stockholm, moored at Portland in Dorset, is the Conservative Government’s other controversial “off-shoring” non-solution to an immigration problem of the Home Office’s own making.

The move of refugees to the barge or on to aeroplanes bound for Rwanda is widely seen as PM Rishi Sunak abusing the work of the Home Office’s immigration service, backed up by the already stretched Met Police, as a pre-election stunt for his party’s political benefit.

Men staying at the Peckham hotel said they fear the conditions that would await them on the Bibby Stockholm, which has had to be evacuated when contaminated with the deadly Legionnaires’ disease, and where an Albanian, Leonard Farruku, died last year in a suspected suicide.

Police moved in at about 12.30pm and attempted to insert themselves between the bus and the protesters sitting around it. The Met’s deputy assistant commissioner, Ade Adelekan, said officers had engaged with protesters at the scene and had warned them they could be arrested (although on what charges, he did not say).

Some arrests were made, and by around 3pm this afternoon, the coach was finally driven away, by police, but reportedly empty of any passengers.

These Home Office detention raids on asylum seekers were denounced today as “inhumane” and “cruel” by Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s (for now) first minister.

“I deplore the inhumane Home Office enforcement action that we have seen. Detaining people to forcibly remove them to Rwanda is cruel, and punishes some of the most vulnerable in our society,” Yousaf told the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh today.

In the i newspaper, Inside Croydon columnist Andrew Fisher wrote, “Deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda may well be the most obscene and morally debased nadir of a Conservative government that has wallowed in a gutter of sleaze and scandal”.

Fisher also criticised the deliberately misleading language of terms such as “illegal migrants”, “bogus asylum seekers” and “invaders”, that are being used by the Tories and the racist far right to dehumanise the targets of these raids.

The inhumane and cruel raids had begun in Croydon on Tuesday, with asylum seekers detained when visiting the Home Office immigration centre at Lunar House on Wellesley Road. Two were eventually smuggled away in the dead of night.

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LOng-term vigil: activists outside Lunar House on Tuesday night

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Long-term vigil: activists outside Lunar House in Croydon on Tuesday night

A vigil outside Lunar House intended to prevent further removals prior to deportation continued yesterday, although there was no further official activity. Activist groups, supported by pro-bono civil rights lawyers, remain in attendance.

Notable by their absence from the demonstrations have been any of Croydon’s Labour MPs, candidates or councillors. Those attending the protest have criticised Croydon Labour for prioritising the delivering of election leaflets over the futures of individuals living in the borough.

Ria Patel, the Green Party councillor for Fairfield ward, and her party colleague, Marley King, their prospective parliamentary candidate for Croydon West, both took active roles in the picket.

As one activist outside Lunar House yesterday told Inside Croydon, “These are not just some people who have the wrong credentials so it’s just too bad and they have to go.

“These are people who are connected us. Their distress is our distress.

“They deserve our concern and our protection. Ordinary Croydon citizens are turning up at Lunar House to offer their support. Let’s hope that our elected representatives will also take time out of their election campaigns and leafleting selfies to show up and do what they can to help stop the deportations.”

The Tories’ Rwanda deportation bill has been criticised by the Council of Europe, the United Nations, countless charities, the House of Lords and, according to Emma Gardiner, “basically anyone with half an ounce of humanity”.

Gardiner is the project lead at the South Norwood Community Kitchen. She was at Lunar House late into Tuesday night. “It was already a place that struck fear in the hearts of asylum seekers across London, a place where you could be summoned and detained and deported at any time, without any notice,” Gardiner said.

“The heavy presence of both immigration officers and police on Tuesday night made for a tense atmosphere for both asylum seekers and those showing them support.

“People stayed to bear witness well into the night, and it was only under the cover of darkness when police decided to send half a dozen vans full of officers to break up aggressively the peaceful protest and allow immigration officers to drive the small group of asylum seekers away to a prison-like detention centre, with the intention of deporting them to Rwanda.”

Gardiner confirms that one protestor was arrested, by four immigration officials who she said behaved “more like bullies than representatives of the state”.

Gardiner said, “The combination of increased callous legislation against humanity, dignity, equality, fairness, the things most decent-minded people in this country hold dear, and the rapid erosion of our right to protest is no coincidence.

“It is becoming harder and harder for anyone to speak up against government policy – a slippery descent into a form of fascist state.”

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