was awash today with the young and the old, the angry and the sad, the shopkeepers and the restaurant owners. They were marching side by side and for the first time, Chinatown was awash with placards. ‘Don’t target the Chinese community’, ‘don’t penalise migrant workers’, said the voices of this normally silent community.
And what had brought them out! It was a raid by the Home Office with the police and the BBC who were filming. Yes, the BBC came in on the act and were filming the arrest of migrant workers who were thought to be illegal. Restaurants were raided in Edgware in North London and employers also suddenly found themselves looking at the potential of being in prison for over a decade! Five restaurants were raided last week in the middle of the lunch hour by over 130 officers in body armour and helmets and 52 people were arrested and taken away on suspicion of being illegal immigrants. 3 were later released though the rest have pretty much been deported to Vietnam and China.
Immigration rules mean that the shop owners who had employed the migrant workers may be liable to 14 years imprisonment. Yes, you heard me right, 14 years of imprisonment, a longer sentence than some sexual offenders get! Those who were arrested were refused access to lawyers and the Police’s Chinatown unit was not informed of the raids which undermined years of support and community liaison that had been built up. In addition to this, the Chinese community felt that it has been humiliated through the filming of the raids. So you can see why they were all out in force and why I was there, marching with them.
So why did I decide to march when the voice and supportive actions of our current Mayor were missing. Well I will tell you why? Since when have we decided to overlook the basic rights of people to get access to legal support when in detention? And when have we overlooked the community police liaison groups so the first that key leaders in the community learn about the raids is when they have taken place and where individuals have been placed into custody? This goes against the norm of community policing which informs key community leaders if there are to be a series of raids in a certain area. And why was the basic dignity of people undermined by a BBC camera crew being there? These are the reasons that made me turn out in solidarity with the Chinese Community today.
After the rally, it was clear that the Deputy Director of the Borders and Immigration Section was genuinely sorry for the BBC crew being there and made clear that in future, there would be no documentary crews and he confirmed that allegations around the lack of access to legal advice would be fully investigated. He also suggested working more closely with the Chinese community and a system to check documents with employers will also be set up. So, today was a landmark for a normally quiet and hard working community. Today, they realised that the power of peaceful demonstration can make a difference and they exerted that right. I am proud of everyone who took part in the demonstration that was around the protection of the dignity of human beings and around the protection of employers who in many instances do not know how to tell the difference between forged immigration papers and the real ones.
I would like to thank Neville Farmer and Merlene Toh Emerson for standing up with the community. Chinatown will never be the same again and the community has had its first taste of political success.