|Giving out 'bust cards' at Willesden Green station today|
UKBA officers were spotted in a Willesden Green cafe this lunchtime. They told a customer they were due to do an 'intelligence led' stop operation in cooperation with local police at the station later. They disappeared into the SNT 'shop' which is close to Sarah Teather's office.
Immediately Brent anti-racists organised a group to give out 'bust cards' which advise people of their rights if stopped by the immigration police.
It soon became clear that this was not the first UKBA visit this week. We were told by local shopkeepers of a raid two days ago when shops were the target. Officers blocked shop doorways while officers went inside to question staff on their immigration status and take photographs. Customers were put off by the heavily built officers with their all black uniforms and taciturn manner. Shopkeepers found their presence threatening and one said that he had lost 2 hours of custom as result of the raid. We were told that there had been at least one arrest.
A young man, seeing what we were doing, hovered near us and eventually plucked up the courage to speak to us.
He told us about a 6am raid, at his nearby address, by what sounded like combined a UKBA/local police unit. He and his friends were woken by police who had come through the front door and were battering on their door. The police said if the door was not opened they would break it down and then proceeded to do so.
The flatmates, all Italian and in their early 20s, were terrified as anyone would be in such circumstances. Their papers were demanded and checked. They were told that intelligence had suggested there were illegal immigrants in the flat. The tenants are hoping that the landlord will repair the smashed door. Meanwhile they are extremely nervous and shocked by the experience.
As we were giving out the cards several people came up to express concern about what they saw as 'police state' tactics.
In the event, perhaps because of our presence, by 5pm no UKBA officers had turned but instead carried out an operation in Willesden Lane.
Motorists were stopped by the police using the ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) system and then handed over to immigration officers to have their identities checked. The legality of this is questionable - immigration officers MUST have intelligence indicating an immigration crime has been committed otherwise they do not have the power make anyone answer questions - people have the right to walk away and not answer their questions. Were the people being questioned told that they were not required to answer questions?
On speaking to some of the shopkeepers in Willesden today it appears that some Council officials were present during these operations. After Councillor Butt's outspoken (and welcome) criticism of the racist van a few months ago it would be very disappointing to hear that Brent Council is colluding with the Home Office in these highly dubious and possibly illegal activities.
Is this all part of Brent Council's Willesden Week of Action? If so, it is far more sinister than we thought.
Shahrar Ali, the Green's 2010 parliamentary candidate for Brent Central said:
This is the week when a sign stationed in Willesden Green read, 'How safe is your home or business, Think burglar,'
To the contrary, local residents and shopkeepers have suffered the shocking tactics of random interrogation and smashed in doors:
'Think UKBA'The people of Brent will not stand for it.