This is the fourth post in our series of personal accounts by individuals who’ve responded to the sight of immigration vans. See stories 1 and 2 and 3 here. This report was submitted anonymously on 21/8/17.
I was cycling around in South London when I caught sight of those garish immigration arrest vans heading down the road. I was on my bike with some time to spare so took up position a few vehicles behind them and started following to see if they were going on a raid. Of course they were and it didn’t take very long for them to come to a stop on Copeland Road in Peckham and pile out.
Still on my bike while they were on foot, I knew I could get to whatever place they wanted to raid before them, but I had to wait to see where they were going. There were about eight of them, and a few started to try and film me on their personal phones. I stuck close until it was obvious they were going to a hand car wash, so I went up ahead. While I began speaking with the guys there about their rights (primarily that they didn’t have to speak with them at all and could ask them to leave), the immigration officers hurried up and tried to interrupt our conversation. None of the workers spoke with them and just carried on with their work, so the officers asked around for a manager. A man walked over and I was able to get next to him when the two immigration cops who looked like they were in charge of things started to make demands of him. While they were talking I kept repeating that he could ask them to leave and didn’t have to answer these questions. Other immigration officers attempted to distract me by making all sorts of threats of arrests to me and the workers.
However, at this point the man from the car wash told the officers that he would not be engaging with them and that they could basically pack up and be on their way. Apparently one of them (the juvenile who we can see in the photo is fresh back from acting like a human at Boom Town Festival) didn’t quite get this and reached into his stack of papers to produce a consent form. His boss told him that in fact they had not received consent, but his first reaction shows how these raids typically go. These officers show up, force their way in, boss people around and then, regardless of what people say, shove a consent form in their face to sign before beginning their arrests.
They seemed a bit flabbergasted by being told to leave and again returned to chin wagging in order to intimidate or otherwise socially engineer their way in. We kept repeating clearly that we weren’t speaking with them and that their only job at that point was to disappear.
It was really nice when I went back to the car wash later and got another chance to speak with the man about what had happened. He thanked me for being there and for telling him that he did not have to answer any questions and could ask them to leave, as he hadn’t known that before. He said if I hadn’t been there he probably would have let them make their checks because none of his workers had any problems, but then that also wasn’t really the point. I thanked him for trusting me in that moment when facing quite a stressful situation. He said that he could also tell the immigration officers were nervous about me being there, and that sensing their fear of the confrontation also gave him the courage to tell them to leave. He said he’d told the story to his friends also working and owning businesses in Peckham who couldn’t believe it. They didn’t know that immigration officers couldn’t come in to a business without the owner’s consent or some paperwork, and that it was possible for them to be sent packing just like that. I left some information leaflets with him and he said he’d distribute them around and share his success story. We’ll for sure be in touch in the weeks to come, and I imagine it will be more difficult for them to “get consent” for their raids in Peckham in the future.
Anyways, back to the day of the attempted raid and when they got back in their vans. I let them know I’d be on them for the rest of the day and that they could expect similar results from any other raid they may have planned. They seemed happy enough with this and told me they were going to Wembley, goading me to join them. Cycling after them at this point was when it first started sinking in that we’d already stopped one raid and potential arrests and imprisonments from happening. I made the decision then and there that I would not leave those vans until I could no longer ride my bike, or I saw them going back into their base.
The whole thing for the next hour or so was quite childish really. They stopped on Camberwell Road for a “fake raid” or something where they basically went en masse to buy chocolate and snacks in a corner shop. On the way out, one of them (the same guy who did not understand the word ‘no’ before and tried to get his consent form signed anyway) told me a residential post code over in Wembley where they were going. I don’t know if he was trying to scare me with the prospect of a long cycle, but I thought he was really dumb to say where they were heading next and I was able to pass on that information. In fact, the whole day this guy was acting like a joker. While in traffic he was hanging his head out of the window trying to offer me some snacks and make some comments about my condition. Anyway, after their snack break they then tried to work me out by taking me on a tour of South London’s hills at the public’s expense. I wasn’t bothered at all as I cycle miles back and forth to work everyday, and I really enjoyed the chance to stretch my legs on the weekend. Plus, as any cyclist knows, in London cars can only get about 200 yards before some red light or traffic stops them, so it was actually very easy to stay with them. The whole time I was thrilled to know that while they were busy trying to get rid of me they were not going to be able to try and lock up someone else. I knew I had gotten in their heads.
In the end they seemed to tire of going nowhere in traffic all because of some pesky guy on a bike, and they started to take a more definitive route north to London Bridge. This is when I first started to allow myself to think that, after intervening in their first raid, I’d be able to send them back home without being able to make another one. The closer we got to London Bridge the happier I felt.
Towards the end, around Elephant and Castle and Borough, they started driving really erratically and recklessly. They tried pushing me into the curb, cutting me off on corners, and tried to overtake me on dangerously small roads. I knew though that these were the death rattles of their day’s work and that I’d already won. They were pissed off and frustrated. They’d tried to lose me, they’d tried winding me up, but just a bit of persistance and a leisurely cycle ride on a beautiful London day is all it actually took to stop the massive machinery of imprisonment and deportation from working for a few hours.
I was joined by another friend on their bike for the last bit of the trip (many more people were on the way down) and when the vans pulled back into their base we all got to have words. They seemed awfully proud of the fact that they had been paid for the past couple hours of trying to tire me out and make their escape. They further demonstrated their ignorance of the concept of institutional racism (as one might expect). In general, it turned a bit school yard and they got hustled inside by one of their colleagues before any of them brought Her Majesty’s Government into further disrepute. In my final words to them I let them know we’d always be there to ruin their day again.
The point though is that on Saturday a lot of people were out there with me on the bike and standing alongside those workers at the car wash. What we were able to do, in turning away and chasing back to their lair two vans full of well-resourced state agents used to getting their way, was only possible because of everything that has happened before. All the interventions people have been making, large and small, and all the non-cooperation which has been taking place. Remember they were shouted out of Peckham before, and they are always scared of another East Street. Our personal strength comes from each other, as well as the threat of our power, and it’s all of our responsibilities to maintain this level of confrontation and disruption even if we can’t see or don’t know one another.
Tips for those catching sight of these vans while out and about:
- Always, always, always follow the vans if you can! We know what they are up to and we know we can stop it!
- Don’t let them know they are being followed until you want to be noticed. We decide when we want to reveal our hand, and there is power in that which should not be given up lightly. Of course, different levels of visibility are important for different tactics but have a think about that stuff beforehand.
- It’s best if you can get to their target before they do and warn people there; however, even if that’s not possible always do what you can. We don’t know how our presence will effect these things, but we know that the immigration cops scare easily.
- Don’t get overwhelmed by trying to remember all the different things you could or should do. In the actual moment prioritize speaking to those getting targetted, then film, and then share what’s happening with friends and people around you.
- When they are going around on the roads, relay their positions and directions of travel as often as possible so that the others mobilizing have accurate information to work from.
- Don’t worry about chatting with them or telling them what particular variety of pond life they are if that’s not your thing. Your presence is already enough, plus all of your friends on the way down might be better at it. Just like cops though it’s often better to say nothing and remember or write down everything they say.
- Remember to stay stafe and protect yourself! This includes in the street as well as in the virtual world. Use anonymous and encrypted messaging whenever possible, and delete information on your devices when it’s no longer needed.