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Protesters descend on Byron burger restaurant amid backlash over immigration raids

The burger chain closed its Holborn branch earlier on Monday after more than 1,300 people said they would attend the planned protest

Alexandra Sims
Monday 01 August 2016 18:17 BST
Byron Protest - London

Crowds of protesters have descended on a London branch of Bryon in the latest demonstration against immigration raids at the popular restaurant chain.

The burger chain closed its Holborn branch earlier on Monday after more than 1,300 people said they would attend the planned protest at 6:30pm.

It also called for protestors to respect the safety of Bryon customers and restaurant teams during the demonstration, after a separate protest saw live insects released into two of the chain's London restaurants on Friday.

There has been a public backlash against the gourmet burger chain after dozens of its migrant workers were arrested in an immigration raid earlier this month.

The Home Office confirmed 35 people from Albania, Brazil, Nepal and Egypt had been arrested on suspicion of immigration offences at restaurants in London

London-based Spanish language newspaper El Iberico reported that 150 more staff were "in hiding" after the raids, which a number of employees claim took place after they were asked to attend staff health and safety training sessions that had been set up as a "trap". These claims have been dismissed by the Home Office.

Police officers lined the front of the central London restaurant on Monday as large groups gathered, however it is understood numbers are well below the thousand expected.

Demonstrators held up placards with the words “Migrants and refugees welcome”, “Migration is not a crime” and “Deportation burger off”; while the chants “Burgers without papers” and “How do you want your Burger? Without deportation” rose from the crowd.

A number of campaign groups, including Unite Hotel and Restaurant Workers Branches, the United Voices of the World Union, London Latinxs, are co-hosting the protest.

On a Facebook page about the demonstration the groups say: “Byron have acted shamefully and have made an example of themselves as a deeply disrespectful employer.

"Our protest aims to shine a spotlight on this unethical behaviour, deter it from happening anywhere else, and to support workers still working at the restaurants to resist exploitation."

Protest co-ordinator Ewa Jasiewicz, of Unite's hotel workers' branch, criticised the company's "unacceptable" role in the deportations.

She said: "The law doesn't tell Byron to entrap workers, to lure them into a trap, to trick them into coming into work when actually they are being raided and they are going to be deported.

"They were literally discarded like bags of rubbish. It's completely unacceptable. How they behaved might have been legal but it's not ethical."

A 25-year-old protester called Lola said the chain could have put undocumented workers in touch with specialist organisations.

"Instead of trapping them and lying to them, they could have said, 'this is what is going to happen if you get caught. You are going to be deported. You are not going to be given time to speak to your families or get your belongings'.

"They could have warned them instead of inhumanely just calling the cops on them as if they were like animals."

The groups have distanced themselves from previous action against the burger chain, which saw two activist groups release "a swarm of insects” - including "live cockroaches, locusts and crickets" - into one Byron restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue and another in Holborn at around 7pm on Friday.

“We want to clarify to people attending this protest on Monday that we had nothing to do with that action,” said The London Latinxs. “The protest scheduled for Monday […] will be non-violent and in solidarity with workers regardless of nationality or immigration status.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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