Scotland and England are streets apart on treatment of refugees - Lorna Slater

Lorna Slater MSP (Green)Lorna Slater MSP (Green)
Lorna Slater MSP (Green)
Kenmure Street is a normal residential street in the southside of Glasgow, but one-year ago it became one of the best-known streets in Scotland.

That morning, around 9am, Home Office vans pulled into the street to detain two local residents who had lived in Scotland for 10 years. The community reacted quickly, with one local resident climbing under the wheels of the van to stop it from leaving while people poured out of their homes and onto the streets.

As word got out, more people arrived from across Glasgow. They came from a range of backgrounds and experiences. Some were seasoned campaigners and others were locals who didn’t like what they were seeing.

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They came together in an inspiring sea of humanity and surrounded the van to stop it from leaving. Among the chants that were heard that day was “These are our neighbours, let them go.”

What happened next was an eight-hour stand-off, with the raid being widely condemned by politicians and activists from across the political spectrum. The images went global, and what had begun as a community spontaneously resisting attacks on their vulnerable neighbours was now being watched and supported by people around the world.

At 5pm the two men were finally released in front of thousands of local people and an online audience of millions.

It was a victory for people power and a clear statement against the brutality of the Home Office. It was also a challenge to the misleading, reactionary and dangerous narratives around immigration that we often hear from Downing Street.

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There was a similar incident only 10 days ago, when Home Office vans turned up for an alleged raid in Nicolson Square, Edinburgh. Again, word got out quickly, and again they were met with protests. Dozens of people gathered in the square and, again, the Home Office enforcers left empty-handed.

Both are stories of communities coming together to protect their neighbours. But neither action should have been necessary. It should not have to take people lining the streets and sitting in the road in an act of defiance to halt the institutional callousness and racism of the Home Office.

The harshness and cruelty of the system is about to get worse. The new Nationality and Borders Act allows the Home Secretary to strip an individual of their British citizenship without notification and criminalise refugees and people coming here for safety.

Last week it was announced that Home Office enforcers would soon be commencing their first deportations to Rwanda for ‘processing.’ It is a policy that has been widely opposed by human rights groups as well as opposition parties and the Scottish Government. Yet, it is being enacted by a Tory government that Scotland has voted against time and again.

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That is not the kind of country I want us to be. I want us to be a country that extends a hand of friendship and offers support and solidarity for its neighbours and people who come here, regardless of if it is for work, love or safety from persecution.

We can be a Scotland that treats all people with dignity and respect, rather than one where the Home Office can carry out aggressive raids and detain our neighbours. We must be the Scotland of Kenmure Street, not Downing Street.

Lorna Slater is a Lothian Green MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity

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