Residents, academics and lawyers have spoken out against a series of immigration raids carried out in Brixton this week.
They have accused the UK Border Agency (UKBA) of heavy-handedness during the arrests, and say that they have been posting pictures of the detentions to social media to “score political points”.
The UKBA has been carrying out the raids as part of Operation Mayapple, and say they have “forcibly removed” 700 people in London who had overstayed their visa.
Sita Bilani, 24, was walking through Brixton market today when she saw a van pull up and seven UKBA officers going into a fruit and vegetable shop.
She claims that when she tried to speak to a man of south Asian appearance being detained the officials became rude and aggressive towards her.
She told the Brixton Blog: “I just wanted to speak to him about the law and his rights. The officers got aggressive and moved me out of the shop, they were being rude and obnoxious and they tried to threaten me with arrest for obstruction.”
According to Ms Balani they led the man in handcuffs through the market to a van parked in Coldharbour Lane.
She added: “The Border Agency needs to know that if they are going to conduct these kind of arrests in the community then the community will be watching.”
The Home Office says 400 overstayers had been persuaded to leave the country, 800 had left of their own accord and 700 had been “forcibly removed” after raids on homes and businesses in London.
Immigration minister Damian Green visited the team carrying out the raids in Lambeth and Southwark this week. He said: “We are working to ensure we identify anybody who has overstayed their visa and encourage them to leave the country voluntarily.
“Those tempted to overstay should be aware of the serious consequences. If you choose not to go you will be arrested, detained and removed.”
The UKBA has also attracted criticism for posting pictures on social media sites like Twitter, Flickr and Youtube.
Pictures and videos on the sites show a raid on a butcher’s shop in Atlantic Road, Brixton where a number of people were detained on Tuesday.
Dr Nando Sigona is a senior researcher working on immigration at Oxford University. He told the Blog: “Operation Mayapple is mainly a PR exercise that the Home Office and the UKBA have carried out in the hope to recover some credibility after a number of migration and border management fiascoes of the last few months.
“But it may turn up not to be the media success that they hoped for and even more it may backfire. In fact, I think that the way the operation has been conducted can potentially exacerbate tensions in local communities that rightly feel to have been targeted and criminalised by the UKBA.”
Dr Sigona said the media campaign only shows photos of poor, non-white males in places like Brixton, adding that “is a very partial (and convenient) representation of the population of undocumented migrants in London.”
A blog post by immigration lawyers at Renaissance Chambers said: “The latest social media campaign shows that politicians and civil servants are going considerably beyond the dirty business of quiet and competent enforcement of immigration laws.”
Ms Balani added: “These raids are being made to score political points and not for economic or safety reasons. The fact they are posting pictures to Twitter and Flickr just proves this point.
“It’s just going to stir up racial tension within the community.”
A UK Border Agency spokesperson said they make “no apology” for enforcing immigration laws. He added: “Businesses which employ illegal workers undermine law-abiding firms. The message is clear – those that do not want to be subject to an enforcement visits should not employ illegal workers.
“We take any allegations of inappropriate behaviour from our officers very seriously and operate a comprehensive complaints and investigation process for where detainees or members of the public believe they have been mistreated.
“Employers unsure of the steps they need to take to avoid employing illegal workers can visit here or they can call the UK Border Agency’s Employers Helpline on 0300 123 4699.”
He confirmed that officers arrested a 19-year-old Pakistani man in Brixton yesterday. He admitted overstaying his visa and is now in detention pending removal from the UK. No formal complaint has been made about the incident.