'Racist' immigration raids have London's Chinatown up in arms
Hundreds take to the streets against what they say are racist and disruptive random sweeps by border agents targeting illegal immigrants
Members of London's Chinese community have accused immigration authorities of conducting racist "fishing raids" in Chinatown as they carry out a controversial crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Scores of Chinese-run businesses claim they have lost thousands of pounds and had their reputations damaged by a widening of the UK Border Agency dragnet.
"The raids have been averaging once a week and their heavy- handed nature is causing racial tensions which we have never really experienced among our community," Lawrence Cheng, secretary general of the London Chinatown Chinese Association, said yesterday.
Cheng helped organise the protest that saw more than 1,500 restaurant owners, shop staff and local residents march through Chinatown on Tuesday.
The protesters blew whistles and carried banners bearing slogans such as "Stop racist UKBA raids" following the 13th raid since July.
Shops and restaurants were shut for several hours to "show solidarity against the rising discrimination". "This shows the rising anger out there towards these fishing raids, which are not intelligence-led and appear to have questionable procedures and cause intimidation," Cheng said.
He said random border control officers storm restaurants and other businesses at random during working hours, shutting premises for long periods, "as if it was an antiterrorist operation".
"They are very disruptive, putting owners in a shutdown situation while UKBA officers stay as long as they like. They are ruining customer relations, especially among restaurant diners."
"We know the agency has a job to do and we are not justifying employing illegal immigrants. But these raids have to happen in the right way - procedures aren't being followed, people are being pushed around," Cheng said.
"One person who offered to translate during one raid was abused. The behaviour of some officers is of great concern."
Restaurant manager Mei Li said the raids were racist and had caused "fury" in Chinatown.
And she slammed the UK's zero tolerance policy towards Chinese immigrants as hypocritical. Last week, the government said it would relax strict visa applications for Chinese business visitors and tourists as part of widening trade and investment ties with Beijing.
"You had Mayor Boris Johnson in China last week trying to woo China, and in Chinatown they are trying to throw people out. The raids are racist. It's outrageous," she said.
Yip Fai Liu, who owns two restaurants, warned that protests would continue if the raids continued.
"Chinese people keep themselves to themselves. We don't say anything until we are really pushed, so this is quite serious," he said. "Do they want us to start a riot, to burn cars so we can get Boris Johnson to come down and do something about it?"
Christine Yau, chairwoman of the London Chinese Community Centre, called on Johnson and the Home Office to talk to them.
"There is rising resentment. We know illegal immigration is wrong but you can't stop it just by raiding businesses," she said.
"We need to change the approach, such as allowing businesses to employ illegal immigrants during their status processing so they can work and pay taxes. Right now, all these raids are doing is causing anger and division."
The Home Office said all enforcement operations were intelligence-led.
"We have met community leaders in Chinatown to discuss our work, but we are clear businesses must carry out the correct checks on the staff they employ," he said.
The raids are part of a widening crackdown on immigration by the collation government and is a response to a growing public backlash about the rise of economic migrants, most from EU member countries.
Recent estimates suggest 174,000 illegal immigrants denied permission to stay have gone missing, and the border agency recently admitted it did not know how many were in the country.
The three main political parties fear voters are drifting towards fringe parties such as the UK Independence Party, which advocates pulling out of the EU and a zero-tolerance immigration policy.
The government is ratcheting up its anti-immigrant policies, sending 40,000 texts to people saying they should leave if they have overstayed.
But it was forced to withdraw a controversial "go-home" anti-immigration campaign this week.
Vehicles displaying slogans warning illegal migrants they face arrest if they do not leave were sent around London and were due to be rolled out across the country. But they were deemed ineffective and racist.