By Stephen Ramsay
Hundreds gathered in Pollokshields last weekend for a ‘Festival of Resistance’, to celebrate one year since two local men avoided deportation due to protests on Kenmure Street.
When the Home Office van arrived outside their home on the morning of the 13 May 2021, it was soon blockaded by a spontaneous sit-in protest. Police gathered in growing numbers, some on horseback, but the crowd surrounding the van swelled into the hundreds over the course of the eight hours it took for the immigration officers to finally give way, and release the two men.
Sumit Sehdev and Lakhvir Singh emerged from the van to an eruption of cheers, and were led by the crowd to the local mosque.
A year on, a vigil was held to mark the moment of their release on Friday evening, while on Saturday afternoon the street was pedestrianised to allow stalls promoting various pro-migrant causes, including the Maryhill Integration Network, Refugees for Justice, and the Scottish Afghan Human Rights Foundation.
Underneath the unexpected sun, activists, trade union members and local people mingled, exchanging anti-racist ideas and literature. At the adjacent park a stage was constructed where acts such as Brass, Aye?, Colonel Mustard, and Musicians in Exile performed to an enthusiastic crowd. A ‘People’s Stage’ open mic was set up further along the street.
Stand Up To Racism and Love Music Hate Racism organiser, Lorna McKinnon, recalls the day of the protest well.
“I remember the moment the van doors opened – the two men emerged, the crowd erupted and the police dispersed to choruses of ‘Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio!’ We had beat back the Home Office and won.”
“It was fantastic to take part in the Festival of Resistance, with Love Music Hate Racism providing the music for the day. It was a real celebration of our strengths as a community, its diversity and unity. This is how we won the victory on Kenmure Street.”
“Our festival to celebrate the anniversary of that victory was also to further entrench the anti-racist ideas that lead to it, with community groups and local campaigns coming together to say loud and clear: ‘Our neighbours will not be chased out by racist Home Office vans. Migrants and refugees are welcome here.”
“We are a united community and we will always stand up against racism in all its forms. If the Home Office come back, we’ll be there and in greater numbers.”
The events of Kenmure Street last year were observed by activists elsewhere. On 5 May, a similar immigration raid was resisted in Edinburgh, when a Home Office van targeted a restaurant on Nicholson Square.
The van was blocked with wheelie bins by the first protestors to arrive, buying time for the crowd to grow in size. After just two hours the van departed, without removing any of the people the Home Office staff had detained inside the restaurant.
On 28 April, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act received Royal Assent. The act, has controversially criminalised several forms of disruptive protest, a move that has been denounced by a number of activist groups.
The debate over migrant rights in the UK continues, with the government moving to outsource migrant processing to Rwanda, whose detention facilities have been criticised by the Human Rights Watch.
Additionally a petition has been started to drop the charges against three of the protestors arrested at Kenmure Street on 13 May 2021.