Gentrification & immigration raids: report of raids on Deptford High Street

 Submitted by a witness to the raid in April 2015

On Monday 19 April the police and officers from Immigration Enforcement conducted raids on shops on Deptford High Street. The raid started with Agege bread, an Afro-Caribbean bakery, and then proceeded to a number of other black or asian owned businesses at the south end of the High Street. As far as I can tell, nobody was arrested or cautioned in connection with any crime. The immigration officers also failed to find anybody without documentation.

The officers gave a number of different reasons for their actions. At one shop they told staff that they wanted to check that the gas on the premises was safe, at another shop they claimed to be checking the lighting, at another they said they wanted to check whether the shop was obeying fire safety regulations. After each of these claims proved unsubstantiated, immigration officers proceeded to check the immigration status of people they found inside the shop.

Officers were reported as being rude and often refused to offer any clear answer when asked about the reasons for their actions. At one shop in particular, they completely closed it down for around 4 hours, and refused to allow the shopkeeper to leave, even though he was neither under arrest nor being held according to any other powers. When he asked to leave, they threatened him with a caution. There were also reports of officers asking at a number of shops whether the shopkeepers could give them access to the flats above. They had no warrants to search any flats on the High Street, and were very unclear about why they would want to enter the premises anyway.

After the raid I handed out information from the Anti Raids Network and spoke to shopkeepers. A common complaint was that raids on the market had been stepped up in recent years. One shop has already been raided five or six times in 2015; another shop three or four times since January. This is spoiling their business: as well as having goods seized, the presence of police and immigration officers on the market completely undermines business, and encourages customers to stay away. One shop had three employees taken away by Immigration Enforcement earlier this year. When I asked employees at a shop whether they thought immigration officers were focusing on any types of people in particular, they told me clearly that the officers only targeted black and asian people, and generally ignore white people.

In February the local Labour Party, apparently in cooperation with Lewisham Council, organised a meeting for market traders to discuss issues facing them. In attendance were the local labour councillors and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Lewisham Deptford Vicky Foxcroft. First among the issues was the problem of speculative raids, which the councillors claimed were unauthorised. Traders were worried that their business was being destroyed by the actions of the police and Immigration Enforcement. Traders came away from the meeting feeling like something would be done about this by the councillors. However, nothing has changed since then, and many feel like their business will not survive if they and their customers continue to undergo harassment.

Another feeling on the market was that one reason for the increase in immigration raids over the last few months was the coming election. Traders felt that they and their customers were being punished for the racist rhetoric around immigration and refugees that has characterised public debate over the last few months.

Finally, another potential reason behind the raids is the imminent opening of a new £47 million development on the High Street this summer, the Deptford Project. The Project is planned to include “132 new homes, 14 artisan arch space workshops, 7 commercial units, 2 restaurants and a new market square.” This new build, one of a large number over the previous decade, will dramatically reconfigure the racial and class make-up of the area, and is a potential drive for the new businesses opening on the High Street (a skate shop, a bike shop/cafe, a coffee shop, the Job Centre pub, an art shop, &c). It is noticeable that none of these new businesses have been subjected to raids or check-ups on their gas, electric, or flats above their shops. It is also noticeable that their clientele is more likely to be white and middle-class. One interpretation of these raids could be that they are a purposeful attempt to undermine the economic base of minority stallholders on the market, to make it appear an even more attractive investment to real estate speculators.

At this point shopowners, traders, customers, employees and just about everyone else on the market subjected to these raids are feeling helpless. People consistently told me that they aren’t sure what they can do, or who they can talk to, to stop this happening. Many have already tried to raise complaints with official channels, and either been lied to or ignored in response. One person told me that the thing they liked most about working and living in Deptford was that people supported each other, regardless of where they were from or what the colour of their skin was. They also told me that it felt like this sense of community and openness to others was being destroyed by the raids, and that they worried about the future of the market if they are allowed to carry on.

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