We Asked Byron Customers How They Feel About the Byron Immigration Raid
"I'm not sure I'm going to go back there, to be honest."
By now you'll know all about #BoycottByron. But hey, while we're here, let's go over the details one more time: Byron, the burger chain and inventor of "Freddar cheese", is in the news because UK immigration officials recently arrested 35 of its staff across London, with "full cooperation" from the restaurant.
A senior member of staff alleged that employees suspected of working in the UK illegally had all been invited to a health and safety training day, before immigration officials swooped. The Home Office denied those claims. Either way, the chain isn't going to face any legal action itself because bosses were apparently shown false documents by the 35 arrested employees when they were applying for work.
People, understandably, have opinions about all this. Some are boycotting Byron using #BoycottByron; others are using the same hashtag to defend the chain for doing the lawful thing. But these are all people on the internet. We wanted to know what customers thought, so we went and stood outside the Hoxton branch of Byron to ask a few of them.
VICE: What do you think about these raids?
Saabaeah, 26: It's disgusting. To me, it's a lack of duty of care, because you don't do that to other human beings. If you feel that something untoward is going on then you have go through the right channels. You don't round people up like cattle and then have them checked out.
So would you feel guilty eating there?
Now I know that, I'm not sure I'm going to go back there, to be honest.
You said before that you've been here for four years on an ancestry visa. Do these kind of situations make you feel vulnerable?
For me, I'm "safe", in a sense. But I think it speaks volumes about the system itself and the way it addresses foreign aliens, or whatever you want to call them. I think that doesn't necessarily make me feel vulnerable, but it does make me feel wary.
So you don't fancy going to Byron Burgers now then?
Andreas: We were just talking about it – it's disgusting. I've been there once and I actually liked it. I'm an immigrant myself. I'm not illegal – I'm from Italy – but I don't feel happy spending money or funding them after what they've done to their illegal immigrants.
Ally: I once had a burnt burger. It was bad. Now, after this, I've got an excuse not to go.
They cooperated fully with the Home Office – thoughts?
Andreas: Is it not illegal for employers to hire someone illegal anyway? Is it not illegal to, like, trap them? It's just gross.
Ally: It's really sad! It would have taken them so much money to get here. I mean, I know it's illegal, but it's really sad.
Andreas: The way they did it, they were like, "Oh, let's go to training," and then the police were there. It's like, no – it's wrong. It's such a big company doing something like that; it's so unethical.
How do you feel when you hear stories like this?
It's just one more sad story after all this Brexit stuff about immigration. They're trying to blame us.
How do you feel about what happened?
Pete: I'm in two minds. My understanding of what happened is that Byron invited a load of employees to what they were calling a training day, and then the Home Office were there and shipped loads of workers off. So, on the one hand, I think they're illegal workers, so it's fair enough, but on the other hand it's a pretty underhand thing to do.
James: It's simple – it's a simple exploitation of people! It's a shameful abuse of the law, and I'm quite disappointed now that we've paid all this money for a milkshake. I feel like a hypocrite! But I really wanted a milkshake. I've just heard about it and I quickly looked up the BBC article and, to be honest, I'm not surprised. I wouldn't be surprised if several other fast food chains did exactly the same thing.
Do you feel guilty having your milkshake right now?
I will do when I've had my milkshake.
Pete: Right now, to be honest, when I saw people were trying to boycott it I thought it was a really good idea, but then I kind of forgot about it...
James: In my defence, I'd paid before he told me about the scandal, because I hadn't heard about it, which is unusual, because I read the news every day.
Has this news put you off eating at Byron?
Thomas, 30: Well, I don't know what the facts are. I heard they were lured into some place – I think it's pretty cruel. I don't agree with that. I don't know the extent to how hideous and vile they are, but I don't really agree with our immigration policies anyway.
Would you ever dream of doing what Byron do?
Selling people short? No. Because I don't agree. I think everyone should have a right to live and a right to live with a good quality of life, regardless of where they're from, and I don't really believe in a nation state and racist foreign policy, basically.
How do you feel about this news?
Ansi: We go to Byron quite frequently, even though we live in Finland.
Sini: We always go here, every time we're in London.
Would news like this affect you eating here?
Ansi: I think it would.
Sini: We think it's not OK to have illegal workers, of course. That's not OK.
Do you think the fact they got deported is bad, or do you think it's worse that they had illegal workers to begin with?
Sini: I think both.
Ansi: I would say so, yeah.
Are you going to eat there now?
Ansi: Kind of. It's a complicated issue. We come almost once a month. We started eating here five or six years ago. We want to eat, but maybe not in here after this news. Can we go Breakfast Club [next door]? I don't want to support them, even though the burgers are good.
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