With a ramping up of state repression and protest, are we seeing a brief flash of activity or the start of a long hot summer? rs21 members Lotta Soph, Daire Ní Chnáimh and SJ Gans share what they’ve seen in London, Glasgow and Manchester, and think about where we go from here.

The Sheffield Palestine encampment, the Glasgow Home Office, Peckham anti-raids, and Lunar House London. Compilation by rs21.

A wave of deportations, raids and immigration detainment has come in the same week as a new wave of student encampments for Palestine is reaching Britain, inspired by those in the US. Activists and organisations are scrambling to rise to the moment, while the British state is massively ramping up its repression of us. 

What’s going on?

Last Friday 25 April the Rwanda Act became law in one more act of cruelty spectacle the Tories are firing up before the elections. Already, asylum seekers have been detained for deportation later in the summer. British arms factories continue to arm Israeli occupation forces, which continue to kill Palestinians. Benefits cuts, rent increases, the Cass report – it feels like everything is getting thrown at us at once. But from our side, the movements for Palestine solidarity and migrant solidarity are escalating too.

The asylum seekers who will be affected by the new law are those who claimed asylum on or after 1 January 2022, whose journey to the UK can be described as having been ‘dangerous’, and who do not have a family with children under 18. Although this could apply to thousands of asylum seekers, there is not space in the detention centres for that amount of people, and Rwanda has only agreed to receive a total of 2000 asylum seekers deported from the UK in the whole of this year. Despite the fact that only a small number of people will be directly affected,  the fear, misinformation and confusion creates much bigger waves of devastation in the migrant community. 

This week, people were detained at immigration detention centres around Britain – some to be moved to the Bibby Stockholm prison barge, some dispersed to other parts of the country, and some prepared for attempted deportation to Rwanda. 

Resistance and repression

After detainment, there is a limited legal means to avoid deportation, which doesn’t accept claims that Rwanda is a generally dangerous place where many people would face harm or risk. There are many lawyers and organisations offering information and legal support. There are also anti-raids groups reactivating across Britain. 

It’s likely that many of the detainments will occur in the next two weeks. There were 3 raids  reported in Scotland on Monday, involving vans going to people’s homes, but they remain unconfirmed. However, some asylum seekers who go to report to the Home Office, in Glasgow, Salford, Croydon and other Reporting Centres, have been detained and moved. This seems to be the Home Office’s preferred tactic at the moment. Migrant justice organisers are maintaining a presence at many of the Home Office buildings in order to pre-empt and challenge the removal of those detained.

In Glasgow, the organisers at the Scotland Home Office on Brand Street have set up with a stall outside the pedestrian entrance, with information on the Rwanda scheme, rights and legal advice, and numbers for migrant support. The stall keeps track of those who go in and whether they come out. Further, people watch the exits and check vehicles as they leave. As seen earlier this week, Glasgow activists are able to mobilise quickly in large numbers if a detainment is known to happen. However, the Home Office managed to sneak out an asylum seeker yesterday who was dispersed from Glasgow to Bradford with her three children. 

Another challenge to the anti-raids movement is that asylum seekers elsewhere in Scotland report to the Home Office at police stations, for example Aberdeen’s city centre station, and it is important to build local knowledge of these sites, and capacity for solidarity efforts there. 

In London, activists mobilised at two Immigration Reporting Centres: Lunar House in Croydon, and Eaton House in Hounslow. At both centres, people who attended reporting appointments were held to be removed in a van to a detention centre. On Monday night, activists in Croydon succeeded in temporarily stopping a Mitie van from leaving with at least one person. The detained individual was taken back inside the Home Office building while campaigners mobilised for greater numbers to come down. An impromptu solidarity encampment was erected, where locals and those from afar brought blankets, tents and food to sustain activists during the night. 

It was understood that the individual inside the building was at risk of removal if activists dispersed, because the police and Immigration Enforcement were waiting the group out. The encampment was able to hold on until approximately 1.30am on Tuesday morning. But as numbers dwindled at night, police increased their presence until a point was reached in which it was not possible any longer to stop the van from departing. Similarly, on Thursday to Friday night, activists held a presence at the site until the early hours of the morning, however a suspected detainee at risk of removal to Rwanda was possibly snuck out of the building by Home Office staff. 

At both Croydon and Hounslow, despite mobilisation efforts, activists were ultimately not successful in preventing vans taking our friends. More needs to be done to build local and city-wide structures that react quickly and commit themselves to attending reporting centres for significant periods of time. Only the presence of large, consistent numbers of activists, combined with dynamic, local anti-raids networks that can be mobilised at speed, can make a difference to vans leaving.

However, where the actions were successful, activists were able to provide information and reassurances to people who often were scared of attending their appointments – just knowing that there were people on the other side who were looking out for you can be a source of comfort in an incredibly isolating, hostile environment. 

In both Croydon and Glasgow, activists were also able to help others who were not at risk of deportation to Rwanda: local community resources were mobilised to organise accommodation for individuals who would have otherwise spent a night on the cold streets. It was a glimpse into what communities can do for each other when we reject the structures imposed on us by a racist, violent state and centre solidarity and care for one another instead. 

Protestors successfully blocked a bus in Peckham that was scheduled to move asylum seekers to the Bibby Stockholm barge. The bus was driven away without any passengers. But this came at the cost of 45 arrests by the Met police. 

In Greater Manchester, protestors also blocked vehicles attempting to move people between reporting centres and detention ready for ‘removal’ to Rwanda. Though these protests had mixed success, and riot police were called to force protesters out of the road in Salford. Repression is ramping up whilst mobilisations are gaining force, and multiple and violent arrests were made in Salford too.

In many cities, organisation against deportations has blossomed from the seeds of long term migrant justice organising work, as well as new networks formed through Palestine solidarity. The escalation in anti-raids mobilisations are accompanied by Palestine encampments springing up around Britain following the example of students in the USA. So far there has not been the type of police aggression against these that we’ve seen in the US, where over 2000 protestors have been arrested, but universities are securitising their campuses to try to stifle this movement. At the time of writing encampments have been set up in Warwick, Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield, UCL, and Leeds, with students in France also taking up the tactic. There has been an encampment outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh since last week.

In further actions this week, May day saw hundreds of trade unionists block all entrances to the Department for Business and trade in central London, demanding an arms embargo. In Glasgow, 200 workers blockaded all 6 entrances to the BAE Systems factory in Govan, shutting down the factory for the day. They were supported by a significant number of the BAE workers themselves. 

Despite the long haul of organising since the genocide accelerated in October 2023, it’s clear that our movements are growing in strength and number. Palestine solidarity efforts in the last months have created networks which are strengthening the migrant justice work at Reporting Centres around Britain now. However, the Rwanda Act, and other blows such as the Scottish rent increases, have shown that we keep getting caught on the backfoot, scrambling to respond. 

What can we build while we fight the fires?

Especially for comrades in England, we need to consider the toll taken by state repression against activists, and how we support each other through that. At a pre-trial hearing on 2 May, one of the four Palestine activists charged with damaging the Teledyne factory in Shipley was denied bail a second time. This was after two were remanded (denied bail) after being arrested four weeks ago. The trial date is set for September, implying the judge and prosecution want to keep the fourth defendant in prison until then with no bail. That’s close to the legal maximum of six months that a person can be held in prison without bail. 

We can’t stress enough that denying bail to these activists, charged with non-violent offences, is a huge escalation in state repression of protest. We predict that these powers will be used increasingly against activists in the future as a way to make them spend time inside regardless of whether they are eventually found guilty at trial.

The violent and disproportionate police presence at the migrant justice mobilisations this week are yet another reminder that the law is always on the side of state violence. The sheer number of cop vans deployed in Peckham to help kidnap our neighbours against everybody’s will brings home the absurdity of state forces, and how far they’re willing to go.

The escalations in our movements are breathless and inspiring, but we have to be real with ourselves about what it all means. People will want to compare this to May 1968, where student protests kicked off a wave of mass workers’ struggle, but today we’re starting from a very different context. The student movement has been in decline for years, and trade union membership is a fraction of what it was fifty years ago. The strike wave we’ve seen recently is coming to an end, and we can’t be sure when it might return. 

We need to respond fast both to stop deportations and disrupt the war machine, but we also need to do the hard graft of building power while also mobilising hard. Part of what’s amazing about the Palestine solidarity movement is that it has been connecting with workplace and community organising. As socialists, our political project rests on deep long-term organising, and that slow build can often be sidelined in favour of the urgent direct actions which feel necessary for us to do the bare minimum in this crisis: ensure that our cities, workplaces, and campuses stop arming Israel and fight forced deportations. 

It is crucial to consider how we make this firefighting sustainable. The movements for Palestinian liberation and migrant justice contain the power for radical change, but we need to think about how we sustain the movements, escalate our actions, and build upon them to support a communist future. 

Our actions can’t stop, so we need to prioritise organising with new layers of people, and building capacity with material solidarity that can sustain activists showing up again and again. This type of reflection and strategising can and does happen in encampments or movement assemblies. 

The Palestinians continue to resist the occupation in the face of overwhelming genocidal violence, and they are inspiring people to take bolder and more defiant action in the global struggle for a free Palestine. As the fires go higher, we need to ask ourselves what we aim to achieve in our cities and local areas, and how do we achieve it? Where does long-term organising sit and how do we sustain the networks formed through these movements? 

While we continue to ask these questions, there are some things we want to prioritise: 

Celebrate victories! The Goldsmiths Uni occupation win is a huge boost to the beginning of the wave of new encampments. The total shutdown of BAE Systems Glasgow this Mayday was another successful blow to the Israeli weapons trade.
Learn from defeats – we weren’t ready for the scale of the border mobilisation and didn’t stop a lot of the vans. But activists are coming out of this determined to build wider and deeper networks for tomorrow and next week and beyond.
Prepare for repression – there’s been so many arrests this week. Many charges will be dropped but others won’t. Get involved in arrestee and prisoner solidarity and don’t leave anyone behind.
Look after each other so we can keep challenging the ruling class – providing food at actions has made a huge difference in Glasgow. Everything from childcare to translators for different languages affects who can get involved in our organising, and we need everyone.
Spin the web of solidarity. Student activists going to speak at union meetings, workers defending students, queers coming out for Palestine, are weaving networks of solidarity that can widen and deepen over the coming years. 
Ensure that we don’t skip the long-term organising in our workplaces and communities in favour of the urgent actions. Building rank and file networks is a key way to connect movement struggles with workplace militancy. Worker participation in the student encampments in the US has been an inspiration. 

Overall, we need to build and deepen organisation that facilitates resistance. Anti-raids networks but also campaigns. Student action groups but also coalitions between them. Direct action cells but also mass protest and movement assemblies where reflection and strategising can be done across different groups and struggles. Let’s act quickly and boldly, but also make sure we’re still in the fight when the adrenaline runs out. Taking care to build long-term organisations is what keeps us together from one wave to the next. 

@rs21org BREAKING: hundreds of workers shut down the Department for Business and Trade in central London for international workers day, in an action called by Workers for a Free Palestine @workers4pal – the department is responsible for licensing arms export contracts to Israel. The workers united will never be defeated! Stop arming Israel! #palestine #freepalestine #solidarity #iwd #iwd2024 #may1 #stoparmingisrael #ceasefirenow ♬ original sound – rs21


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