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Chinatown shuts down over UK border Agency raids

Community unites against UKBA 'fishing'

There was big trouble in London's Chinatown yesterday when every business closed in protest against UK Border Agency (UKBA) collective punishment "fishing" raids in the area.

The popular tourist area ground to a total halt as the government's hard-line Immigration Bill was debated by MPs.

For two hours restaurants, supermarkets, hairdressers and shops in the central London district were deserted as the community took to the streets over a series of draconian immigration raids - 13 local businesses have been invaded by UKBA officers in the last few months.

In a swipe at the Tories, who recently sent London Major Boris Johnson and Chancellor George Osborne to Beijing on a goodwill trip, protesters said that the Chinese community had been criminalised.

London Chinatown Chinese Association spokesman Lawrence Cheng said: "All the existing evidence suggests that the raids were not intelligence-led.

"They have had the same effect as the Go Home or Face Arrest van campaign. They fuel negative stereotyping and racial profiling."

Hundreds crowded under the overhanging Chinese lanterns in Gerrard Street off Leicester Square blowing whistles and chanting "UKBA go away. Chinese community here to stay."

Human rights lawyer Imran Khan told demonstrators that the government consistently treats entire ethnic communities as criminals.

"They have in the past attacked communities up and down the country.

"Today is the turn of Chinatown. Whether we are from this community or others the message is that we are not prepared to take this lying down.

"These fishing raids are unlawful, illegal and unprofessional."

Chinese advice centre Min Quan chairman Bobby Chan - a British resident - was on the sharp end of the government's indiscriminate bully-boy tactics recently when he received a Home Office text message asking him to leave - one of 40,000 sent out despite many of the recipients having a legal right to be in the country.

"The raids and the Immigration Bill are connected," he said. "The government is creating an atmosphere of fear. It's like living in 1984."

Fourteen-year-old Ah-lam released a lone balloon into the air in protest against the raids.

She said: "(The raids) make me scared and sad. Some people's family members have been taken. Nobody wants their family taken apart."

Community leaders admit that some businesses do employ illegal workers, but say that undocumented employees slip through the net because of labour shortages and complicated immigration rules.

Rather than collective punishment the community would like to open a dialogue with the UKBA to help resolve the problem.

The LCCA has written to UKBA but has had no response, Mr Cheng said.


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