Release hundreds, even thousands, of live insects into a restaurant, and you will close it down. That is what happened in two London branches of the Byron burger restaurant last Friday, in an act of protest against Byron’s cooperation with Britain's Home Office in an immigration raid of its workers.
Thirty-five Byron workers from Albania, Brazil, Nepal, and Egypt were arrested for immigration violations at a number of restaurants across London, the Home Office said, adding that the burger business conducted the proper “right to work” checks on staff members, but had been shown counterfeit documentation.
Many are outraged by the protocol Byon followed. "Some of these people worked here for four or five years and they weren’t even given a chance to say goodbye," a worker told The Guardian. Others, however, say Byron was justified, even respectable in turning its employees in.
"When you buy fake papers, you know you're breaking the law. So to then somehow be held accountable to that law is not outrageous or unfair," James O’Brien, a presenter on Leading Britain’s Conversation, said after Twitter users started posting #BoycottByron.
Staff members were asked to attend a health and safety meeting, but met immigration officials instead, a senior worker in one of the branches alleged. A spokesman for the Home Office, however, dismissed reports that an event was set up to lure workers to one place, according to The Telegraph.
An article about the incident published in the London-based, Spanish-language newspaper El Ibérico instigated the fury. A witness told the paper that 50 workers, most of whom are Latin American, were arrested and deported, while 150 others are hiding after evading capture.
"I think that boycotts are an important part of our democracy," Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, told The Telegraph. "And I think the trickery involved in this case is what people are outraged at."
"Many thousands of live cockroaches, locusts and crickets [have been released] into these restaurants," a statement published by the London Black Revs and Malcolm X Movement, two social revolutionary groups, on Facebook said. "We apologise to customers and staff for any irritation, however, we had to act as forced deportations such as this and others are unacceptable, we must defend these people and their families from such dehumanised treatment."
For many protestors, the choice to deploy cockroaches was particularly meaningful.
"People often refer to migrants in disgusting terms," one told Huck Magazine. "[Tabloid columnist] Katie Hopkins called them cockroaches in an article just a few months ago. We want to show these people what cockroaches really look like, and we’ll unleash them on places like this if they don’t change their ways."
Byron confirmed that the Home Office had visited its restaurants, and management had "acted upon the Home Office's requests throughout the course of the investigations … and will continue to do so."
"These visits resulted in the removal of members of staff who are suspected by the Home Office of not having the right to work in the UK, and of possessing fraudulent personal and right to work documentation that is in breach of immigration and employment regulation," the restaurant wrote.