Immigration officials in Tower Hamlets have been criticised by campaign groups for ‘intimidating’ employers into allowing them to search premises without warrants.
Right to Remain, a group which backs immigrants, says that officials are persuading market stallholders and other employers into signing consent forms which will allow them to access to information that they will need for warrants and raids at a later date.
But the group says that employers are not aware of their right to refuse to sign the form or to turn away officials without a warrant.
Operation Skybreaker is a five-month plan by the Home Office to curb illegal immigration in Tower Hamlets, Brent, Ealing, Newham and Greenwich. According to Anti-Raids Network there are two parts to the initiative: the “soft” aspect involves squads consulting community groups and persuading business owners to sign consent forms. These forms grant them access to information they need for warrants and raids, forming the second part of the operation.
A member of Anti-Raids Network said: “Ultimately, Operation Skybreaker is designed to disguise the brutal nature of immigration control, using ‘friendly chats’ and entry by ‘consent’ to gain the information they need to raid, detain and deport people.”
“Immigration raids are disruptive as businesses can’t operate while they are being raided. They are also extremely intimidating as the Border Force are regularly rude and aggressive and rarely follow their own guidelines.”
A report released in October last year by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, found that in 59 per cent of cases, immigration enforcement officers had been granted power to enter business premises without a search warrant and failed to comply with the Home Office’s own guidelines about the use of this power.
One market stall owner in Whitechapel, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke of his own experience: “They came here and wanted me to sign a piece of paper saying that they’ve been here but I didn’t sign it. Why should I have to?”
“The way they’re watching us is making us feel like criminals. You are on tenterhooks all the time, worrying that the Home Office is one day going to come and arrest you. They always come at the busiest times as well and business starts to suffer.”
“I can understand from their point of view why they need to check. But there are better ways of doing it. People here are not educated and literate so they’re frightened.”
Michael Collins, Right to Remain co-ordinator, said: “Operation Skybreaker is creating division and fear in the community. If the government thinks they must be seen to be doing something, there are less harmful ways than attacking our communities like this. Harassing residents because they look a bit foreign is only going to result in further alienating communities.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We do not comment on operational matters.”
Right to Remain and Anti-Raids Network will be holding a public meeting to inform migrants of their legal rights on Thursday, November 13.