Police officers arrested 13 protesters following a demonstration at a Home Office immigration centre in Solihull yesterday evening.

The group were apprehended just after 9pm on Monday (April 29), after preventing access to Sandford House, where they had spent most of the day in support of 5 asylum seekers who had reportedly been detained by authorities in the building.

According to police, the activists were arrested on suspicion of causing a “breach of the peace” and remained in custody as of Tuesday afternoon (April 30). Officers had been present on site throughout the day but made the arrests late in the evening.

Protesters chant and wave placards in solidarity with asylum seekers Adam Yosef
Protesters chant and wave placards in solidarity with asylum seekers outside a Home Office immigration centre

A spokeswoman from West Midlands Police said: “Thirteen people were arrested for failing to comply with a notice issued under Section 14 of the Public Order Act in Homer Road, Solihull, after access was blocked at the immigration centre last night during a protest. Officers were called just after 5.30pm to a protest at the location to prevent a breach of the peace.”

The protest coincided with the launch of a major government operation to detain asylum seekers across the UK from Monday, weeks earlier than expected, in preparation for their deportation to Rwanda.

As revealed by The Guardian, Home Office officials have been instructed to detain asylum seekers who turn up for routine meetings at immigration service offices or bail appointments, in a surprise two-week exercise being implemented nationwide.

Attending in shifts during the day, around 20 campaigners blocked access to prevent a Home Office vehicle from entering Sandford House earlier in the day, until police intervened.

Police officers made 13 arrests in Homer Road, Solihull, for "breach of the peace"Adam Yosef
Police officers made 13 arrests in Homer Road, Solihull, for “breach of the peace”

Asked to move along, protesters responded with chants of “Home Office are b*****ds too, just another shade of blue!” and “Let them go!” in solidarity with asylum seekers who hadn’t been seen since entering the centre.

Displaying ‘Refugees Welcome’ and ‘Stop Rwanda’ placards, activists expressed anger at the Rwanda Plan.

“Today we’ve been made aware that people have been asked to report as refugees, migrants and asylum seekers; and that some of them are during that process they are being detained and potentially be detained and put on flights to Rwanda,” said Zahid Ali.

“We’re here to protest against that. Some of us are committed enough that they’re going to block vans holding anyone being detained, to stop them being detained and transported to detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood and then potentially deported to Rwanda.”

Activists are calling on the government to scrap the controversial Rwanda operationAdam Yosef
Activists are calling on the government to scrap the controversial Rwanda operation

Ali suggested authorities show more compassion and understanding of the personal situations of vulnerable migrants.

“Anyone who has family, wants to live in a secure home with their family, they’ll feel disturbed that this is going on.

“These people, they’ve fled whatever persecution and oppression in whatever countries they’ve come from, they’ve tried to seek a safe home here in the UK where maybe they have family and friends or an existing reason for being here; and now they’re being deported unjustly against their wishes and potentially breaking up those family relationships and that safety that they’ve been seeking for so long, and it’s very depressing to have that and so we want to stand up against it.”

Ali added that the timing of the Home Office’s operation suggested it was initiated to appeal to right-wing voters ahead of local elections on Thursday.

“Obviously they [the Conservative Party] are very desperate, they’ve over 20% behind in the opinion polls compared to the Labour Party, so they have to resort to the lowest common denominator which we know through decades and centuries has been to blame ‘the other’, to blame the ‘foreigner’, to blame ‘outside influences’, and that’s what they’re doing. They’re resorting to type and that sort of xenophobia and racism is unacceptable.”

Critics of the Rwanda plan are urging the Home Office to show more compassion towards vulnerable asylum seekersAdam Yosef
Critics of the Rwanda plan are urging the Home Office to show more compassion towards vulnerable asylum seekers

These views were echoed by Salman Mirza, a legal case worker for refugee and asylum charity Brushstrokes, who described the detentions as “desperate”.

“It’s incredible and utterly desperate that the government is exploiting the most vulnerable people in our communities.

“Asylum seekers are being used as an election tool to glean votes, the Rwanda scheme is inhuman unpopular and expensive, we have already seen protests up and down the country opposing it.

“The government needs to ditch this policy and concentrate on helping people and not demonising them.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said the government was enforcing its "final phase" of the Safety of Rwanda Act Adam Yosef
A spokesperson for the Home Office said the government was enforcing its “final phase” of the Safety of Rwanda Act

Responding to criticism of the Rwanda Plan, a spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Now that the Safety of Rwanda Act has passed and our Treaty with Rwanda ratified, government is entering the final phase of operationalising this landmark policy to tackle illegal migration and stop the boats.

“This includes detaining people in preparation for the first flight, which is set to take off to Rwanda in 10-12 weeks.”

They added: “We continue to ensure that individuals are held in safe and decent conditions. It’s right that we have adapted our approach to the use of immigration detention in response to the global challenge of illegal migration, so that we can remove those with no right to be here.”


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