UK police raids to find undocumented workers: expensive overkill

Here are excerpts from a report published by the Institute of Race Relations in the UK. You could say it is a catalogue of proper applications of the law in cases where people knowingly infringe it. But are these sorts of draconian raids and labour-intensive, costly efforts to catch small-time infringers really worth it? People are beginning to realise just how much public money they require. Granted that there might be some connexions between illegal migration and state security, is an overall policy to conduct searches for undocumented workers like high-risk terrorist operations justified? I think we all know it is not. Targeting ethnic restaurants  – their owners, workers and clientele – is an easy way for immigration personnel to demonstrate that the government is Taking Things Seriously. When undocumented migrants manage, as in the cases described below, to find a way to work for low wages and begin to integrate marginally into society, why come down on them so bloody hard?

Because the Law is the Law? But what of all the white-collar infringements that are not handled like these operations, which resemble cop- and spook-style raids on terrorists and gangsters? No such stormings are seen on office buildings and other (white)’ sites. Do people imagine there are no undocumented workers there?

For details, more examples and documentary notes, see the report itself.

Crusade against the undocumented
By Frances Webber, 5 February 2009

Every day, somewhere in the UK, immigration officers, often with police, frequently wearing stab-proof vests, surround High Street restaurants, takeaways and convenience stores, seal exits and storm in. . .. . . generally at the busiest time, to demand that workers prove their right to be working there. Sometimes they carry hand-held fingerprint terminals to perform instant identity checks on those they find working there.  .  .

. . . The raids frequently involve large numbers of police and immigration officials and sometimes resemble military operations. 

The article gives examples:

Seventeen UKBA officers and three police officers descended on Makbros, a cash and carry warehouse in Stanmore, Middlesex, and detained and questioned five men, all of whom turned out to be lawfully employed. An eye-witness said that it was ‘quite scary with all these people running up’.[2]

Thirteen immigration officers raided the Unique Spice restaurant in Burnham, Buckinghamshire, to arrest two Bangladeshi men.[3]

A convoy of five vehicles descended on the Waverley Hotel, Yarmouth in a raid in which two Mauritian men and a Brazilian woman were arrested.[4]

Shabul Muhth’s two restaurants in Kent were raided by around eighteen uniformed officers and the restaurants closed at around 6.30pm on Friday and Saturday nights, the peak time for his business. No arrests were made. ‘Come in like gentlemen’, he said. ‘We’re not drug dealing, we’re selling curry.'[5]

A full-scale search with dogs and a police helicopter were deployed to hunt for two men who ran out of the kitchen at Thariks Indian restaurant in Paignton during a raid. An immigration officer fell through the roofof a building in the chase, in which the two men got away.[6]

The owner of the Bamboo restaurant in Exmouth, Martin Lai, who is chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Chinese Association, said that during an immigration raid on the restaurant he and his staff were treated as if they were terrorists.[7]

Press reports on the raids frequently include the information that the officers involved were wearing stab vests. This appears to result from (and in turn contributes to) a characterisation of undocumented workers as truly criminal, dangerous, liable to pull a knife to evade capture – which, from the total absence of any evidence to support it, whether in court reports, police charges or otherwise – appears wholly false.

It is the undocumented workers themselves for whom discovery and pursuit can have serious, even fatal consequences. A soon to be released IRR report shows that for the first time, the largest number of deaths related to immigration controls Europe-wide in 2008 was during immigration raids (thirteen deaths).

In the drive to catch ‘illegal’ workers, it is overwhelmingly the small, ethnic minority-owned businesses which are targeted – the restaurants and take-aways, kebab shops and convenience stores whose visibility on the High Street makes them easy targets for a policy driven by numbers.

. . . Very often, their resort to illegality has been caused by Home Office delays in deciding asylum claims, which can last for years, causing immense hardship and distress. This was the case for 49-year-old Zimbabwean paramedic Thomas Mvemve, who waited four years for his asylum claim to be decided before, in desperation to provide for his family, he got work with a care agency using a fake Home Office letter.

Many refused asylum seekers are in an impossible situation. . . . When Zimbabwean Florida Ziki, who overstayed with her husband after being refused asylum, was arrested for using false Home Office documents to get work in a care home, she broke down and said, ‘What was I supposed to do? I can’t live or work here without these papers’. It was accepted that Florida, a former member of an opposition party in Zimbabwe, could not go back there, but as a failed asylum seeker, she could not work or obtain benefits. But she was still jailed for eight months. Her husband fled during the immigration raid, and has not been seen since.[18]

Iraqi Kurd Shaho Abdulkadr of Eastville, Bristol was sentenced to fifty-one weeks imprisonment suspended for two years and 150 hours’ community work for using forged papers to try to get a job.

A failed asylum seeker from DRC who used a stolen French passport to work as a cleaner and support his partner and two children, had his sentence reduced – but only from 12 to 10 months.[20] And the court showed no sympathy to four failed asylum seekers from DRC who had bought false passports to find work, upholding 12-month sentences in order to send out a message to deter others, although they quashed recommendations for deportation.[21]

The sentences handed down to migrants who use false documents to work are similar to those imposed on people who use theft or fraud to enrich themselves, and do not take account of the fact that falsely documented migrant workers actually do the work for which they are (usually poorly) paid. Sometimes, adding insult to injury, workers find their hard-earned pay confiscated as ‘proceeds of crime’.

Again, read the whole report with documentation here.

© Institute of Race Relations, 2-6 Leeke Street, London WC1X 9HS UK

One thought on “UK police raids to find undocumented workers: expensive overkill

  1. Ginger

    What, exactly, does the government believe it will gain by arresting migrants who are unable to obtain the necessary papers to work, (and therefore survive and support themselves and their children) yet are unable to return to their country of origin for valid political or other reasons ? Is there some advantage derived from jailing human beings who are guilty of having a desire to survive ?
    The worst crime, in these cases, is being committed by the government itself for targeting people who are (as stated in the last paragraph above) actually doing the work for which they are being paid ! What are the migrants expected to do? Throw themselves into the sea? Just as in the schoolyard, the large and powerful bully seeks out the smallest and most vulnerable for attack, fully knowing his victim has no choice but to lie down and take the abuse,… and subsequently will live in desperate fear of the bully’s next need for self aggrandizement. A program, a plan, a humane alternative for migrants in this unfortunate and impossible situation is needed to be made available to them. Sadly, an alternative will not likely come about from within the government, as the fox is not well suited to guard the hen house… With more public awareness of their dilemma, and with the refusal of citizens to ignore the plight of the migrants, maybe change will come… and people who have already suffered more than most will receive consideration and just treatment from a government whose money and power could be better directed toward the many serious issues that face us all.

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