Author: Caroline Davies
A crowd of about 100 people shouting “cops go home” took part in a seven-hour protest in Bristol as immigration enforcement officers attempted to remove a man who was allegedly in the country illegally.
Some protesters used vehicles to block the road, according to officers called to Chelsea Road, in the Easton area of the city. One protester reportedly climbed on top of the immigration van to try to prevent it from leaving.
Police said the group had been attempting to stop the man, who is aged 49 and from Pakistan, from being removed. The protest continued until 5am on Friday. The man was detained and remains in immigration detention pending his removal from the UK.
The protest followed a raid on a mini-market by immigration enforcement officers acting on intelligence during which the man was arrested for overstaying his visa.
In a statement, Avon and Somerset police, which had been called at 10.15pm on Thursday, thanked community leaders for helping to resolve the incident peacefully
It said the number of people protesting quickly grew to about 100. “Our priority was the safety of local residents as well as the safety of the officers and the welfare of the man who had been detained,” the police statement said. There were no arrests.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Following an intelligence-led visit to a business in Chelsea Road, Bristol … immigration enforcement officers requested assistance from Avon and Somerset police during a disturbance involving members of the public.
“Police attended but did not make any arrests and the protest ended at around 5am. Nobody was harmed during the incident.
“While we respect the public’s right to protest, it is important that any demonstrators do not obstruct our officers from carrying out their lawful business. We are grateful to both the police and local community leaders who worked with us to resolve the incident peacefully.”
Witnesses said the man’s family were distressed at the way, they claimed, immigration officials had entered the shop en masse. They were still awaiting news.
Laurie Underwood, one local resident who was protesting, said: “At the heart of every bit of immigration enforcement violence like this is a person who was just trying to get on with their day and a community who knows and respects them. It’s not OK to kidnap our friends and neighbours. It’s brutal and unnecessary. The response in Easton last night shows we don’t have to sit back and watch it happen.”
The incident, it was said, had turned into a “surreal street party” where people bought out free hot chocolate, and others created impromptu beds in front of the vans with carpet and mattresses.
Another local resident who joined the protest, Heather Newson, said the man was well known and liked by those in the community who used the shop. Of the protest, she said: “It was totally Easton community doing an awesome thing.”
She added the are was “one of the most diverse places in Bristol” and she felt it was “really important to send a message that this is unacceptable”.
Some neighbours bought blankets, and someone else bought anti-raid leaflets to share around.