Live insects ‘swarmed’ a London burger chain

The World
Immigration enforcement officers

Immigration enforcement officers listen to a briefing before a raid in Southall in west London, Britain, May 21, 2015.

Richard Pohle/Reuters

A group of protesters released a swarm of live insects, including cockroaches, into a British restaurant late last week — in a bid to draw attention to immigrant workers who are being detained and deported — especially from this particular restaruant.

Even though immigration raids in the UK are “relatively commonplace,” the Byron Hamburger immigration raid seems to be the “first of its kind,” says journalist Michael Segalov, who wrote about the incident at two London branches of the burger franchise Friday evening.

The protests come after 35 of Byron’s workers were rounded up in immigration raids last month; 25 of them were deported.

The Home Office confirmed that the workers detained were nationals from Albania, Brazil, Nepal and Egypt.

“On Friday night, I met a group of activists in a square in London who then headed to two of the restaurants and then released thousands of insects: locusts, crickets, beetles and cockroaches,” explains Segalov, who received an anonymous text the night before, which tipped him off to the time and location as to where the protest would take place.

“After about 10 or 15 minutes of sitting down, I looked at a table next to me, which is now empty, and heard a shriek from around the corner and there were thousands of beetles poking about. Customers had to leave and the restaurant was forced to shut down.”

While Byron Burger released a statement on Twitter saying they “cooperated fully and acted upon the Home Offices’ requests and processes throughout the course of their investigations,” adding that it is their “legal obligation to do so,” protestors disagree with how the situation was handled.

“The allegations are that staff in 12 of these restaurants across London were called into these meetings early one morning, which were ostensibly for health and safety reasons. Others say it was training for a new burger. But rather than that meeting actually taking place, immigration officials swooped in and started checking people’s identities,” Segalov explains. In other words, protesters say, the business set their workers up.

The activists’ frustrations come during a spike in migration in the UK.

According to the BBC, net migration in the UK increased to 333,000 in 2015.

“Theresa May, the new prime minister here, was the home secretary before she took up her office. She was a big believer in trying to tackle immigration. There were stories of ‘go home vans’ being driven around areas of large amounts of migrants, allegedly, and seems to be hiking up racial tension. Whether or not this is specifically related to that, remains unclear and hard to say, but it’s certainly timing that’s significant.” Segalov says.

He adds that the releasing of bugs into these restaurants is more than just an act of protest; it’s symbolism for the way the media as well as UK politicians have referred to both migrants and refugees.

“David Cameron, before he resigned, referred to migrants and refugees as being a ‘swarm,’ a phrase that has a huge amount of connotations. Katie Hopkins, who’s a well-known controversial columnist here for one of the UK’s largest newspapers referred to refugees as ‘cockroaches’ in an article just a few months ago. There’s definitely symbolism here that’s worth noting.”