On Wednesday, we shared a report on Twitter that UKBA Officers were stopping people of minority ethnic appearance at the tube station in Kensal Green. Tweeters and some independent media quickly took up the story, with a few of the bigger news outlets (notably the Huffington Post and New Statesman) catching on this morning. But what actually happened at Kensal Green, and was it legal?
According to the Home Office statement made to Political Scrapbook, this was merely “a routine operation” where Officers “questioned individuals to check if they had the right to be in the UK”.
Three arrests were made; so far so good for UKBA. They have the right to stop people in public places and ask questions about their immigration status.
However, looking at the detail of the very specific circumstances in which this is allowed, the Kensal Green incident starts to look far from routine.
The most obvious evidence of this is in the demographics of those arrested. A Ukrainian women, Indian man and a Brazilian woman were taken into custody. But pictures and eyewitness statements clearly describe others being stopped and questioned – a man of Black African or Caribbean appearance, and two women of Asian appearance, for example.
UKBA guidelines state explicitly that racial profiling during ‘speculative enquiries’ would breach the Equality Act 2010. So what methods were used to select those being stopped at Kensal Green, if not racial profiling? No eyewitnesses have reported anyone of White British appearance being stopped.
Immigration Officers do not have the same stop and search powers as the Police. They can only stop and question people on the basis of evidence. People are entitled to refuse to answer their questions and to walk away from the situation. Yet one witness (who was not questioned) reports that, when he simply asked what was going on, he was threatened with arrest for obstruction. All of the accounts we’ve seen describe the behaviour of the Officers as ‘intimidating.’
People should technically be informed of their rights when being stopped in this way, but there are no reports to suggest that those stopped at Kensal Green were made aware that they did not have to co-operate.
This heavy handed approach is divisive and humiliating at best; at worst it is racist and a breach of the legal rights of those targeted. The Home Office states that “Our officers carry out hundreds of operations every year around London, and where we find people who are in the UK illegally we will seek to remove them.” How many of those are being carried out with no regard for our rights? An independent review of UKBA tactics is arguably long overdue. Let’s hope we don’t need more situations like Kensal Green to prompt this.