The unprecedented strike in a community that is better known for keeping a low profile is the latest manifestation in Britain of growing concern about some aspects of UK immigration law.
Around 100 restaurants closed their shutters and a crowd of more than 500 people gathered for the protest before marching to the Home Office in Westminster.
“We are striking to demonstrate the frustration and anger of the community towards the increasing and unfair immigration raids on a growing number of restaurants,” said Joseph Wu, chief executive of the London Chinatown Chinese Association.
The Home Office would not comment on Tuesday’s protests, but told CNN in a statement that immigration enforcement officers had visited businesses in Chinatown on seven occasions in the first six months of this year. On five of those visits, they encountered offenders — 19 people in total.
Joy Luck raid ignites protests
For Peter Ren, owner of the New China restaurant, it was one of the main reasons he shut up shop to strike on Tuesday.
“They (officers) blocked a street for three hours and we can’t even do business,” he told CNN.
“It’s a small area, and the number of raids they’re doing is out of proportion and heavy-handed,” he said, adding, “I’m not against immigrant checks. But treat the Chinese community fairly.”
The Home Office said that during the operation at the Joy Luck restaurant, five men were arrested, including four who had overstayed their visas and one who had entered the UK illegally.
“The protest which followed saw attempts to prevent immigration enforcement officers from leaving the area with the arrested men,” said the statement. “No members of the public were harmed during the incident. An immigration officer was found to have a fractured ankle during a hospital checkup in the week following the protest.”
‘Our reputation could be put in jeopardy’
London’s modern Chinatown, an area of roughly one square mile situated between Soho and Leicester Square, was founded in the 1950s by immigrants from Hong Kong, then a British colony.
Local leaders fear the immigration raids will have a negative impact on Chinatown’s image.
“We are concerned about the image this incident will create for Chinatown where the people have been working hard to change it from a rundown area into an international landmark, with Chinese gates and high-quality Chinese cuisine,” said Wu.
“All this can be put into jeopardy if we are portrayed as a place of crime, which we are not. If Chinatown suffers, London suffers.”
CNN’s Sheena McKenzie and journalist Leke Alabi contributed to this report. Additional reporting contributed from CNN London.