'I'm so happy fate brought me to Glasgow': One of pair released by immigration officials after protest thanks community

ITV News Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith reports on the two men who were released by immigration officers in Glasgow after protesters block the van

One of two men detained by immigration officers in Scotland and subsequently released after protesters blocked them from leaving has said he's grateful "fate" bought him to live among the demonstrators in Glasgow.

On Monday evening, protesters sat on the road in front of the Home Office van parked on Kenmure Street in Glasgow. Police officers surrounded the vehicle.

Hundreds of protesters were at the scene, chanting refrains like "Leave our neighbours, let them go" and "Cops go home".

"I'm so happy that my fate brought me to live here in Glasgow, where the people are so connected that they'll come out onto the streets to help one of their own," Lakhvir Singh exclusively told ITV News.

He said being released gave him the "happiest feeling", and if he could say one thing to the protesters, it would be: "thank you very, very much".

Both men are Indian nationals who have lived in Scotland for ten years but still do not have leave to remain.

In a statement, Police Scotland said: "In order to protect the safety, public health and wellbeing of all people involved in the detention and subsequent protest in Kenmure Street, Pollokshields, today, Chief Superintendent Mark Sutherland has, following a suitable risk assessment, taken the operational decision to release the men detained by UK Immigration Enforcement back into their community meantime.

Lakhvir Singh becomes emotional as he thanks the protesters

"In order to facilitate this quickly and effectively, Police Scotland is asking members of the public to disperse from the street as soon as possible."

Mohammad Asif, director of the Afghan Human Rights Foundation, was one of what he said were hundreds of neighbours protesting against the action on Thursday.

The 54-year-old, who left Afghanistan as a refugee himself in 2000, said the atmosphere amongst the protesters is peaceful.

He said: "We’re here against the hostile environment created by the Tories and the British state.

An immigration van in Kenmure Street, Glasgow, surrounded by protesters Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA

“The same people who run from the British and American bombs put at the back of the van right now. And they are about to be deported.

“And it’s on Eid you know… the guys are not even allowed to pray. How do you do that in a democratic society? It’s a sad day.”

Another protester also placed himself under the immigration enforcement van in Glasgow as protesters tried to prevent it from leaving.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said earlier: "Around 9.55am this morning, police were called to an address in Kenmure Street, Pollokshields, following a protest by a large group of people.

“The call was made by UK Immigration Enforcement (UKIE) after a group of protesters gathered at the address where UKIE staff were in attendance.

“Police Scotland does not assist in the removal of asylum seekers. Officers are at the scene to police the protest and to ensure public safety."

Sabir Zazai, chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council, wrote on Twitter: “Not close to the details on this but this is shocking, disgraceful and racist if people are raided by enforcement officers amidst the pandemic on the day of #Eid.”

Wafa Shaheen, head of services at the charity, said she was “shaken and angry” at the Home Office’s decision to “force people from their homes on the first day of Eid”, and she condemned the “heavy-handed approach”.

One protester positioned himself under the van to ensure it could not leave Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA

Tom, a neighbour who joined the protest, compared the immigration operation on Eid to a police raid on Christmas Day.

“The solidarity shown today shows the community will not stand for their neighbours being dragged from their homes,” the 31-year-old, who did not want to give his surname, said.

“I’d ask Christians to reflect on what it would feel like to have your house raided on Christmas Day.”

Hundreds of protesters attempted to stop the van from leaving Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA

Lotte, an artist and member of the Scottish tenants union Living Rent, lives on a street nearby. She said she joined the protest when she saw a small group outside the property on Kenmure Street at 10am on Thursday.

“I’d like to express my utter disgust at the brutal removal of my neighbours from their home,” the 26-year-old said.

“It is an awful thing to do on any day, but today being Eid makes it 10 times worse. I hope they will let our neighbours go.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused the Home Office of creating “a dangerous and unacceptable situation” with the action.

Ms Sturgeon, who was sworn in on Thursday as MSP for Glasgow Southside, tweeted: “As constituency MSP, I am deeply concerned by this action by the Home Office, especially today in the heart of a community celebrating Eid.

“My office is making urgent enquiries and stands ready to offer any necessary assistance to those detained.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said he was “disgusted by the Home Office raids”.

He tweeted: “It is particularly unacceptable that this is happening during a pandemic, in an area that has a spike in cases and on the day of Eid.”

A UK Home Office statement said the operation was “conducted in relation to suspected immigration offences.”

Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said he had "expressed the Scottish government’s deep concern and anger about this operation by the Home Office, especially in the heart of a community celebrating Eid.

“To take this action in Pollokshields, a day after the first minister warned of an upsurge of Covid cases in the South Side of Glasgow in completely reckless.

“We welcome people from all over the world, not only for their contribution to our economy and society, but for the diversity they bring to our communities.

"Scotland is stronger for our multiculturalism and non-UK citizens are an important part of our country’s future.

“Immigration is fully reserved to the UK government.

"The Scottish government has no control over the operation and enforcement of the immigration or asylum system, which is dealt with by the Home Office.

“I have spoken to the Home Office, as has the first minister and we have called on the UK government to abandon their operation.

“We have repeatedly called on the Home Office to deliver more humane and flexible asylum and immigration policies.

"It is increasingly clear that the UK government is incapable of delivering policies that reflect Scotland’s values, circumstances or interests.”