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Protestors release cockroaches into upmarket London burger chain in deportation row

Justina Crabtree; special to
Protestors release insects into Byron Hamburger

Demonstrators released live cockroaches, crickets and locusts into two London branches of upmarket chain Byron Hamburgers on Friday, accusing the company of having "entrapped (staff)" in a crackdown on illegal immigration.

The insect protest at the weekend was followed Monday by roughly 200 protesters gathering outside Byron's Holborn branch. The controversy was sparked by the arrest of 35 people on immigration charges in Byron restaurants across London on July 4. The arrests included people from Albania, Brazil, Egypt and Nepal, 25 of whom are no longer in the U.K., according to a spokesperson from the U.K. Home Office.

A Home Office spokesperson said that Byron had carried out the required "right to work" checks on its members of staff, but had been shown false documentation. This meant that Byron was not facing civil penalty action.

London Black Revolutionaries and Malcom X Movement, the groups behind Friday's original insect protests at Byron's Holborn and Shaftesbury Avenue branches, said in an official statement: "We must defend these people and their families from such dehumanized treatment." The intention of the protest was "to inspire others to ensure Byron is shut down until they either go out of business and, they apologize to those staff impacted … and compensate them."

The phrase "No one is illegal," mentioned in Friday's statement, has become synonymous with the protests.

Monday night's event was supported by Unite Hotel and Restaurant Workers branches, as well as groups including Global Justice Now and War on Want. Byron said that the restaurant was closed early as a result, though all its branches were now open for business.

Monday night, Byron tweeted a statement on the case, saying that the company was "unaware that any of our workers were in possession of counterfeit documentation until the Home Office brought it to our attention." The chain added that it had, according to its legal obligation, "co-operated fully and acted on the Home Office's requests."

Byron has also "worked hard to ensure minimal impact on (its) customers while this operation was underway."

Since the protests, the hashtag #boycottbyron has been picking up steam on Twitter. Public opinion on the issue remains divided, with one side of the debate accusing Byron of acting inhumanely against its own staff.

Meanwhile, others argue that the restaurant must comply with the law.

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