Booth House. Photo by Alice Chapman © Social Streets CIC.
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Protestors in Whitechapel attempted to block an asylum transfer at Booth House

An ‘anti-raid callout’ on social media about a transfer of migrants to Bibby Stockholm led to a flash protest outside one of Whitechapel’s migrant hotels.

At 10am on Thursday 23 May, police arrived at Booth House in Whitechapel. This was to transfer a group of migrants to the controversial Bibby Stockholm barge. Word spread quickly on social media leading to a flash protest outside the migrant hotel. 

Migrants rights groups spread the word on social media that immediate action was needed at Booth House to block an asylum transfer of migrants to the Bibby Stockholm. 

Police and Territorial Support Group vans arrived at Booth House at 10 am. There were about 20 protesters present, who were outnumbered by the police at a ratio of two to one.

Protesters stood before the vehicle exit gate on the Devenant Street side of Booth House. This blocked the police from entering the building to remove migrants still waiting on paperwork from the Home Office. 

Booth House is a homeless shelter on Whitechapel Road run by the Salvation Army. 

One protester was arrested at around 10.20 am. The police refused to tell anyone where the arrestee was being taken. 

By 10.30 am, the police cornered off the exit gate. They removed protesters from the road and drove off with 14 Booth House residents inside the van. 

Protesters and Police. Photo by Migrants Rights Network.

The Met Police have stated that they ‘attended the scene at the request of the Immigration Service following reports of protesters blocking entry and exit to the venue.’

According to residents, there are approximately 300-400 migrants currently living in Booth House. All are awaiting Home Office paperwork, some of whom have been waiting for over 18 months. 

The home office was asked why these specific 14 migrants were taken, as opposed to the other 300-400 people living at Booth House. They refused to comment. 

This is not the first protest that has taken place at an asylum transfer in recent weeks. Since the Rwanda Bill completed its passage through parliament on Monday 22nd April 2024, many other demonstrations have occurred across London. Locations include Peckham and Croydon. 

These have been to try and block vans from taking migrants to ‘prison-like’ accommodations such as the Bibby Stockholm. 

The Bibby Stockholm is a barge that houses asylum seekers. It has been previously compared to a prison. Residents have said they have been made to feel like ‘zoo animals’ whilst living on board. A suspected suicide of one asylum seeker living on board was also mentioned by the source in December 2023. 

‘Community resistance to immigration enforcement is vital in an increasingly hostile environment for migrants.’ says Toby Nicholas, Community and Capacity Building Manager at the Migrants’ Rights Network.

‘Resistance to immigration raids has been happening for a long time, but the anger around the inhumane Bibby Stockholm, Rwanda plan and racist hostile immigration policies is fuelling more resistance. People are responding to anti-raids callouts and coming out on the streets. The raid at Whitechapel House last week is a clear example of the community coming together to try and prevent the removal of migrants.’

In response to a different protest under similar circumstances in Peckham on 2 May, Home Secretary James Cleverly said: 

‘Housing migrants in hotels cost the British taxpayer millions of pounds every day. We will not allow this small group of students, posing for social media, to deter us from doing what is right for the British public.’

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the expected bill for four sites will be £1.2bn in the next decade. This is £46m more than the estimated cost of hotels. The sites include the Bibby Stockholm barge in Dorset, former military sites at Scampton in Lincolnshire and Wethersfield in Essex, and ex-student accommodation in Huddersfield.

As more asylum transfers are being conducted across the country, communities are coming together in protest to protect the rights of migrants. 

If you enjoyed reading this, you might also like: How the new Weaver line celebrates the migrants that made the East End

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