Bet It Wouldn’t Happen Where the Journalists Live – Newcastle, 22 March 2014
We went to Patricia’s birthday party. Arriving at the Indian restaurant in smart West Jesmond in Newcastle at shortly after 7pm we found that in addition to our party of fifty-odd people the restaurant was full at its remaining tables on two floors and there was a constant milling around the bar area of people coming to collect takeaways. It was busy.
And coming and going through and among this multitude, eight or ten po-faced people in blue onesies and bovver boots with a label on their jacket saying ‘Immigration and Border Control’, repeatedly walking up and down the stairs and asking things at the bar, giving the evening a kind of Gestapo flavour. It turned out that this was not a jolly wheeze organised by Patricia, this was the authorities seeking out illegal immigrants.
Patricia found a moment to ask the owner of the restaurant, whom she knows, about it. They had been there since five o’clock, he said, opening every cupboard and fridge door, wanting to see into everything. It was difficult when the restaurant is so busy and he was having to apologise to everyone for slow service and what is more if they find anyone who is working there illegally he could be fined £10,000. ‘I do my best, but how can I know whether what someone tells me is true? How do I know if papers they show me are genuine or not?’ He seemed to be taking the stance that if you get caught then it’ll be a business expense of the type that is out of your control, a bit like something getting broken and er. . . would he be able to claim tax relief on the expense? Looking this up it seems that he might, though I guess he would have to argue the case. And of course Ahmed the restaurant boss is right, if someone gives him a dodgy NI number he would not find out it was a made up one or one belonging to someone else for quite some time.
Anyway the Gestapo all marched out at around 9pm, having found no Bangladeshis hiding in the fridge, and Ahmed shrugged his shoulders, it seems these days to be one of the things that, if you are of Bangladeshi origin and running a restaurant, you have to put up with periodically.
I felt outraged. There is a French restaurant next door and an Italian one next door to that. Do they get raided? Admittedly French and Italian people can work here without needing anything more than an ID card, but the staff waiting on and in the kitchen – they could just as easily be Australian. Could it be the black faces that are the ones that get hassled?
It may be that the immigration officers raid Indian restaurants because there is a greater chance of finding illegal immigrants than there would be in an Italian restaurant, but then Ahmed is well known in the area, people will know that he is running a successful business and wants to stay on the side of the law and get on with running his business.
Patricia somewhat disagreed with my rantings, arguing that immigration needs to be controlled and by raiding a restaurant when it is busy they are more likely to find someone as all hands will be on deck. Which may well be so, but British policing has a tradition of being low-key, of using intelligence and focusing on identification of where the problems are, before charging in with truncheons flying (metaphorically). It all seems a bit too foreign for my liking.
And there is the cost-effectiveness. Eight people for four hours on a Saturday night – to arrest at most a cook and a waiter. And in reality no one at all. Taxpayers’ money. There may be a problem of illegal immigration but this sort of behaviour by the authorities gives the distinct impression that whatever problem it is they think they are tackling, it isn’t that one. Or perhaps I am wrong there, perhaps the intention is to give the impression that the problem is being dealt with through visible presence, a kind of sop to what the authorities believe the people want to see, but if it is that then they are misjudging that too, as follows:
In Nazi Germany, when this sort of thing was more widespread, nastier and more extreme, one reads that the ordinary people mostly said: but what could we do? We did not see this most of the time! And curiously this event is an example of that. Apart from Patricia and the staff of the restaurant, I did not find anyone who had seen any immigration officers. They just didn’t notice them! One man, when I pointed out who they were, said he had half registered them and guessed they might be VAT inspectors. He is a retired vet.
Extraordinarily though raids such as this must be going on all over the place they never seem to get reported. Is there a conspiracy going on among the press? Or is it just that journalists all live in Notting Hill Gate?