London protesters block coach taking asylum seekers to Bibby Stockholm

A standoff was under way in London on Thursday after a coach sent to collect asylum seekers and take them to the Bibby Stockholm barge was surrounded by protesters.

Dozens of demonstrators blocked the coach before it was able to pick up passengers, surrounding it on all sides. Hours later, the bus was still at the scene while protesters were also sitting in front of a number of police vans carrying a number of people who were arrested.

The protesters were condemned by the home secretary, James Cleverly, who said they “will not… deter us from doing what is right for the British public” and used a post on X to say housing asylum seekers in hotels was costing the taxpayer millions of pounds every day.

The protest also came as Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s outgoing prime minister, denounced the Home Office’s “inhumane” and “cruel” detention raids on asylum seekers and urged the UK government to scrap the policy.

At least eight asylum seekers living at a Best Western hotel in Peckham were told a week ago they would be collected on Thursday morning by coach to relocate to the Bibby Stockholm moored at Portland in Dorset.

The coach was then expected to collect other passengers along the way but was blocked in when it was surrounded by protesters after pulling in at a bus stop at about 8am. At least one person was knocked to the ground and received medical attention after police moved in at around 12.30am.

The people who were due to be removed are said to include teenagers who are attending colleges in the area.

A number of men staying at the hotel said they feared the conditions that would await them on the Bibby Stockholm, where an Albanian man called Leonard Farruku died last year in a suspected suicide.

One said: “We are also concerned this is happening at the same time as the government’s Rwanda plans have gone through. But it’s encouraging to see this sort of support.”

Police moved in at around 12.30pm and attempted to insert themselves between the bus and the protesters sitting around it. The Metropolitan police’s deputy assistant commissioner, Ade Adelekan, said officers had engaged with protesters at the scene and had warned them they could be arrested.

Yousaf had told MSPs during prime minister’s questions: “I deplore the inhumane Home Office enforcement action that we have seen. Detaining people to forcibly remove them to Rwanda is cruel, and punishes some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

Yousaf was asked by Scottish National party MSP Karen Adams about the Guardian’s report on Sunday that the Home Office was to start detaining asylum seekers for forced deportation to Rwanda.

He said: “At times like this, we all have an obligation to just step back. Actually think about what’s going on here, in a country, the UK, where those who flee persecution, war or extreme poverty, come to our shores.”

One of the coordinators at the protest in Peckham, Kojo Kyerewaa of Black Lives Matter, said: “Our friends who are at a Home Office hotel got notification that they were going to be taken to the Bibby Stockholm today.”

Kyerewaa said they were given a week’s notice and that “because of the bonds and relationships they’ve got in the community, we were made aware of that and organized a discreet action… so that they would not be abducted and taken away.”

Related: Lone children at risk of deportation to Rwanda after being classified as adults, says charity

He said the protest was inspired by a similar one in Margate last week, where a coach was prevented from taking 22 asylum seekers to the barge.

“We know that the residents don’t want to leave and we know that the Bibby Stockholm is a dangerous place to put anyone. It’s unsanitary and one person has taken their own life being there and there’s been multiple attempts of suicide by people told that they’re going to the Bibby Stockholm.

“We have been organizing to prevent that and it’s so far been successful. “We’ve got at least 50 people blocking this coach on Peckham road right now.”

The action is believed to be the first of its kind in London since 2022, when protesters gathered in south-east London for hours to block a van transporting a man who had been arrested for immigration offenses.

Some of those organizing the action were from Black Lives Matter and the Southwark and Lambeth Anti-Raids network, while others were understood to be friends in the community, including those who taught the asylum seekers English at college.

Home Office sources described the visit as a “relocation of asylum seekers” rather than an “immigration enforcement visit.”

A spokesperson said: “Accommodation is allocated to asylum seekers on a no-choice basis and asylum seekers can make representations if they believe they are unsuitable to be moved to the Bibby Stockholm. These are considered in full before any decision is made.

“We continue to deliver our plans to significantly reduce the use of asylum hotels, closing 150 by beginning of May, and work closely with accommodation providers to manage the exit process in a way that limits the impact on local authorities and asylum seekers alike.”