|A poster is placed in a shop window during a protest against raids by the United Kingdom Borders Agency in Chinatown in central London on Tuesday. (Photo from China Daily)|
When British Chancellor George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson visited China this month and tried to attract more Chinese visitors, they perhaps did not expect what was happening back in London's Chinatown.
The United Kingdom Border Agency recently carried out more than 13 raids in Chinatown that business owners described as "discriminatory" and that led to a strike and protests on Tuesday afternoon.
Business owners claimed the raids were "fishing" for illegal immigrants, were not intelligence-led and were heavy-handed. Many raids ended without arrests. Some business owners said they were not conducted in accordance with lawful procedures.
Most restaurants and shops across Chinatown willingly closed for two hours on Tuesday and hundreds of protesters filled the main street of Chinatown in central London. Some carried a large banner saying "Say No to UKBA Fishing Raids in Chinatown".
The Chinese community stressed it is not trying to justify employing illegal workers, only that any raids had to be conducted in the right way.
According to the London Chinatown Chinese Association, which organized the strike, the discriminatory raids damaged Chinatown's business and image.
"Community leaders fear the high number of raids will be damaging the reputation of Chinese businesses in the area and create negative stereotypes of Chinatown and the Chinese community," said Jane Lee, vice president of the LCCA.
One business owner said: The UKBA "come in heavy-handed, and you don't know what it's for. Then people are being pushed around, and we are closed during the peak hours."
A restaurant owner who holds a British passport said Chinese people normally keep to themselves and don't say anything until they are really pushed.
This is the first time the London Chinese community has called a strike in six years. In 2007, there was also a small-scale closure of Chinatown for the same reason.
In recent years, a labor shortage in Chinatown has been exacerbated as the British government tightened its immigration policy.
Some shops and supermarkets have to employ mainly eastern European staff for deliveries, but it is very difficult for non-Chinese staff to work in Chinatown kitchens.
Lee said, "There is an atmosphere of unease and anxiety among the workers in Chinatown and employers are reporting the loss of many experienced staff, and find it more difficult to recruit new staff."
The protest came weeks after UKBA spot checks began at key London Tube stations, in what critics said might involve racial stereotyping.
It also came amid continued controversy over the "go home" vans, a pilot scheme by the Home Office. The vans drove through neighborhoods with foreigners advertising a campaign in which the government would help illegal immigrants return to their native countries. The program was canceled amid widespread criticism.
"The closure in Chinatown on Tuesday indicates a strong desire among the UK Chinese community for their genuine concerns to be acknowledged and addressed," said Suresh Grover, director of the Monitoring Group, which was established in west London in the early 1980s by community campaigners and lawyers who wished to challenge the growth of racism in the area.