Charities referring rough sleepers to immigration enforcement teams
The rough sleepers came from a range of EU and non-EU countries, including Romania, Poland, Italy and Bangladesh.
Leading homelessness charities whose remit is to protect vulnerable rough sleepers have been passing information about some of them to the Home Office, leading to their removal from the UK.
A report from Corporate Watch, The Round Up, reveals concerns about homelessness charities’ links to immigration enforcement and comes at a time of increasing disquiet about the involvement of landlords, schools and the NHS with immigration enforcement.
Civil liberties campaigners have accused the government of having a toxic “border on every street” policy.
Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said: “Using homeless charities to spy on the homeless is a new low, even for a government bent on bringing border controls into every corner of our lives.
“Turning unaccountable citizens into immigration officers can only lead to racial profiling, discrimination and alienation, raising tensions in already divided communities. If the Home Office genuinely wants to rise to the post-Brexit challenge, it must end this toxic ‘border on every street’ policy.”
Enforcement activity against non-UK rough sleepers was stepped up last May before the referendum vote, and the Home Office recently circulated new guidance about removing some of these rough sleepers. Outside of London the majority of rough sleepers are UK nationals but in London more than half are not from the UK.
Local authorities have been invited to bid for Home Office funds to assist with immigration enforcement initiatives.
A series of freedom of information (FoI) requests to London councils by Corporate Watch has revealed the extent to which councils and homelessness charities are working with Home Office immigration, compliance and enforcement (ICE) teams. Thirteen local authorities responded to FoI requests about working with ICE teams.
Last year there were dozens of joint local authority/Home Office operations across London. Camden was involved in 24 operations and Tower Hamlets in 16. Joint visits to eight London boroughs led to 133 rough sleepers being detained in immigration removal centres.
In a two-month pilot operation in Westminster, 127 non-UK rough sleepers were deported. The rough sleepers came from a range of EU and non-EU countries, including Romania, Poland, Italy and Bangladesh.
The FoI responses reveal the role of homelessness charity St Mungo’s. Islington council states that in some cases St Mungo’s refers rough sleepers directly to the Home Office ICE teams.
Hammersmith and Fulham council disclosed a document from St Mungo’s, entitled Enforcement policy for EU and non-EU nationals not engaging with the outreach team. It explains a series of interventions St Mungo’s outreach workers have with non-UK rough sleepers. If the rough sleepers are deemed to have no right to remain in the UK and do not agree to return home voluntarily, the document states that “these individuals’ details will be passed onto the ICE by the outreach team”.
Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo’s, said: “The reality is that under current UK legislation, there are vulnerable people that are not eligible for support or housing and as a result are left destitute on the streets. When returning home is the only option for a vulnerable individual sleeping rough, we have to ask ourselves what would happen if we didn’t get involved. The stark reality is that without any intervention people would simply deteriorate on our streets.”
A spokesman for another homelessness charity, Thames Reach, said: “Thames Reach has no powers to compel rough sleepers to return home but when we believe that individuals are at risk from living on the streets, where people are in extreme destitution, we will work with the Home Office to plan a way for them to return home.”
A spokesman for homelssness charity Change, grow, live (CGL) said: “Change, grow, live (CGL) do all we can to help rough sleepers to get help, regardless of their background or nationality. We work with a number of local authorities and statutory agencies around the country to reduce the risks faced by rough sleepers and find solutions to their sometimes complex needs.
“If employment or housing cannot be found for an EU national, we will offer supported reconnection to that home country or somewhere they have relatives, and liaise with services there to ensure they have a place to go.
“When there is no other option and the person has refused reconnection, they are unable to work and cannot be housed, there is little alternative to them going back to their home country.”
Another charity, Connection At St Martins, declined to comment on whether they pass information to the Home Office about non-UK rough sleepers.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The GLA holds a large database of homeless people in the capital – The Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN). Its analysis is made available to the Home Office by the GLA. It provides data relating to the location of rough sleepers including migrant rough sleepers. We do not publish figures for the number of individuals found during rough-sleeping operations, and are unable to discuss ongoing operational activity for security reasons.”
Corporate Watch is calling on workers at homelessness charities to stop passing on information about rough sleepers to the Home Office which is used to deport them.
Fizza Qureshi, director of Migrants’ Rights Network, said: “MRN is deeply concerned by the findings of the Corporate Watch report. The government’s ‘hostile environment’ agenda is clearly undermining the duty of care held by service providers, including homelessness charities, to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”
• This article was amended on 8 March 2017 to remove material that was not intended for quotation.
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