Sunday, December 8News For London

Home Office removal of European rough sleepers challenged

The Home Office threatening to remove thousands of European homeless people has been questioned in the High Court.

The judicial review of the Home Office policy enabling the removal of European homeless people who are living on the street will start tomorrow, November 21.

In London alone, at least 95 rough sleepers have been removed in the last year and a half, according to a Freedom of Information request by NELMA and Housing Action South London. However, the number is likely to be higher, as most boroughs said they did not hold this information.

A demonstration will be held outside the Royal Courts of Justice to show the extent of public opposition to the Home Office policy. (Photo: Alice Facchini)

The policy means Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams can arrest, detain and remove homeless EU nationals from the UK for sleeping rough. The guidance was issued in May 2016, stating that rough sleeping was an ‘abuse’  (later amended to ‘misuse’) of their right to freedom of movement.

The Public Interest Law Unit at the Lambeth Law Centre, with the support of NELMA (North East London Migrant Action), won the right to challenge the policy at the High Court earlier this year.

“We believe that the Home Office’s policy is not only unlawful, but also immoral,” an activist for NELMA, David Jones, said to Westminster World. “What we are seeking to achieve is simple: the withdrawal of the Home Office’s policy and an immediate end to the detention and removal of homeless people.”

The Home Office refused any comment on the issue.

Demonstration in front of the High Court

On November 21 a demonstration will be held outside the Royal Courts of Justice, “to show the Home Office — and the judge — the extent of public opposition to this most inhumane of ‘hostile environment’ policies,” Jones said.

The protest is organized by NELMA, with the help of SOAS Detainee Support and Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth. Other charities and groups will join, including Haringey Anti-Raids, Right to Remain, Hackney Migrant Centre and Akwaaba.

The protesters are asking the withdrawal of the Home Office’s policy and an immediate end to the detention and removal of homeless people. (Photo: Alice Facchini)

People affected by Home Office’s policy

Council patrols targeting migrant rough sleepers are conducted, on average, nine times a year, according to NELMA’s last report. In the year ending June 2017, there was a 20% increase in enforced returns of EU nationals compared with the previous year. Many of those affected by the policy have been living in the UK for years, usually working and paying tax.

The new policy has particularly affected migrants from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and other Eastern European and Southern European countries.

“Apart from believing that homelessness is not a crime, we believe that the Home Office is targeting some of the most vulnerable people in our society —people who should be supported, not criminalised,” Jones said.

Charities collaborating with Home Office to remove European homeless people

Beyond that, some major homelessness charities are supporting the Home Office’s policy through joint operations and information-sharing.

A report from Corporate Watch revealed the role of outreach teams from St Mungo’s, Thames Reach, and Change, Grow, Live (CGL), that have been passing information about rough sleepers directly to the Home Office.

The three charities have been contacted for comment, but only St. Mungo’s replied to our request. They denied having shared information with the Home Office, “except when an individual has given their consent, or in situations where people are at risk.”

But the FoI figures obtained by Corporate Watch showed that detention and enforced deportation is more common. The respondents that gave numbers about “voluntary returns” said their patrols resulted in 55 people agreeing to “voluntary return”, and 133 people being detained.

Other homelessness organisations are concerned about the situation. Val Stevenson, trustee of The Pavement, charity that publishes independent advice for a homeless readership, said to Westminster World: “For some homeless people, returning home may well be the best option. The element of compulsion is worrying, though, and some of the people in danger of being forcibly removed are working but – like many people who have ended up on the streets – cannot afford exorbitant London rents.”

Home Office secretly acquired charity data map

The Home Office secretly acquired sensitive data showing the nationality of people sleeping rough on the streets, according to an investigation by The Observer.

A chain of emails sent by senior Home Office immigration officials revealed that they were given access to a map created by the Greater London Authority (GLA), that identified and categorised rough sleepers by nationality.

This way, outreach workers tasked with helping homeless people by collating data for the GLA, were accidentally helping the Home Office to remove rough sleeping EEA nationals.

(Subbing: Jane Bracher)