By Charlie Kimber
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South London anti-racists block refugee bus bound for Bibby Stockholm prison barge

The Tories are rounding up people to send them to Rwanda
Anti-racists block the coach in Peckham, picture from the front

Anti-racists block the coach in Peckham (Picture: Jewish Socialist on Twitter)

Around 200 anti-racist protesters on Thursday blocked a coach sent to transport refugees to the Bibby Stockholm barge. It’s an example of the type of militancy needed to thwart the government’s round-ups that are designed to cage people and then send them to Rwanda.

Demonstrators surrounded the coach which had been sent to a hotel in Peckham, south London from 8am. Within 90 minutes cops had brought in two territorial support group vans and eight police motorbikes. 

But protesters defied the repression and for hours they prevented the coach from loading up refugees or moving on to be part of grabbing other people.

At about 3pm, seven hours after it turned up, the coach was able to leave the area—without asylum seekers onboard.

Home secretary James Cleverly condemned the protesters and said they “will not deter us”. But direct action has worked and can do so again.

It emerged on Thursday that the Home Office was abandoning plans to move asylum seekers in Margate, Kent, to the Bibby Stockholm after protests there.

One of those blocking the coach told Socialist Worker, “We are not prepared to stand aside and let people be dragged away. Whether it’s removal to the barge or to Rwanda we stand for the full freedom of refugees and say that all refugees are welcome.” 

Stand Up To Racism said, “Well done to all in Peckham who have managed to block an attempt to forcibly move people to the barge. Join the action to stop their removal.”

The authorities had told a group of refugees in a Best Western hotel in SE15 that they would be removed to the Bibby Stockholm situated at Portland in Dorset. 

Kojo Kyerewaa of Black Lives Matter UK said refugees were aware of the plan to take them away and that “because of the bonds and relationships they’ve got in the community, we were made aware of that and organised action so that they would not be abducted and taken away”.

At around 2pm, police moved in to arrest those who stopped the removals. But Black Lives Matter tweeted, “Peckham High Road is now completely blocked by people resisting the removal as well as resisting the arrests made by police. There are many, many more of us than the police. They’re not going anywhere.”

And the group End Police Violence said, “We’ll be blocking this coach until we know for sure that our friends won’t be snatched today.”

On Wednesday the government confirmed “Operational teams within the Home Office have been working at pace to swiftly detain individuals in scope for relocation to Rwanda, with more activity due to be carried out in the coming weeks. 

“The action is a key part of the plan to deliver flights to Rwanda in the next 9 to 11 weeks.”

The Home Office added it has “increased detention capacity to more than 2,200 spaces” and has “500 highly trained escorts ready”. And it released a video showing officers entering homes and bringing out people detained in handcuffs, before locking them in the back of vans.

This is a foul and desperate escalation designed to throw a few more votes to the Tories. 

It means cops and immigration officials seize people, pen them in camps and removal centres and then bundle them on planes to east Africa.

At least some of those detained are now in Harmondsworth immigration removal centre, Europe’s largest detention facility that can hold up to 676 detainees. It is close to Heathrow Airport in west London, and is run for the Home Office by Care and Custody, a division of the Mitie Group. 

Others seem to be in Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre, close to Harmondsworth. It is modelled on a high security, Category B criminal prison.

And solicitors say some of these seized are, at least temporarily, in Brook House near Gatwick airport.

Rishi Sunak has said an airfield is on standby to handle the expulsions. A Ministry of Defence base—Boscombe Down near Salisbury, Wiltshire—was used for the aborted removals flight in June 2022 and the Home Office has been carrying out rehearsals there in recent months.

The government has prepared 150 judges to deal with last-minute legal appeals in 25 courtrooms.

Labour continues to criticise the Rwanda scheme, but looks to equally brutal alternatives. The Keir Starmer-friendly New Statesman magazine this week featured an article by Andrew Marr, former political editor of BBC News. 

He wrote that Starmer was working with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper on a scheme that would mean “swifter deportation” of undocumented asylum seekers. And “figures in the party are already exploring European policies on processing asylum claims outside the EU—in North Africa, Turkey and other jurisdictions.”

Instead of hoping for change from Labour we need more direct action to halt the raids, round-ups and deportations.

  • For actions including a demonstration next Wednesday, 8 May, 6pm, Downing Street, London go to standuptoracism.org.uk

 

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