‘Unacceptable and cruel’: Foreign rough sleepers to face deportation after Brexit

Lawyers claim many homeless are forced onto street by Home Office’s own hostile environment policies

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 22 October 2020 17:59 BST
The new laws, which are due to come into force on 1 January, will provide a discretionary basis to cancel or refuse a person’s right to be in in the UK
The new laws, which are due to come into force on 1 January, will provide a discretionary basis to cancel or refuse a person’s right to be in in the UK

Non-British rough sleepers face being deported from the UK under new immigration rules set to come into force after the Brexit transition period.

Under the new laws, which are due to come into effect on 1 January, rough sleeping will become grounds to cancel or refuse a person’s right to be in the UK.

Campaigners have described the plan as “completely unreasonable” and cruel, warning that they could push already vulnerable people, including victims of modern slavery, further into the fringes of society.

Officials are thought to be aware of the “extreme sensitivity” around the concept of making homeless people liable for deportation. However, reducing the number of people on the streets is said to be of “great interest” to Boris Johnson and his ministers.

The Home Office said removal of rough sleepers would only take place if they refused offers of support and were engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour, and that the new provision would be used “sparingly”. Nonetheless, campaigners questioned the morality of the policy.

Lawyers said the new rules ignored the “many different reasons” why people may be sleeping rough, some of which directly related to Home Office’s hostile environment policies.

Sonia Lenegan, legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, told The Independent the plans were “completely unreasonable” given that government policies may have driven some foreign nationals onto the streets.

She highlighted a High Court ruling in May which found that an eight-year-old British boy was left street homeless with his migrant mother because the Home Office unlawfully refused them benefits.

A separate judgement in July ruled that migrants had been unlawfully forced into homelessness because the department was using a “systematically unfair” policy to determine their eligibility for accommodation.

“Twice so far this year alone, the government has been found to have unlawfully applied policies to people subject to immigration control that have resulted in a period of rough sleeping,” Ms Lenegan said.

“The government is now seeking to give itself powers to remove people from the UK on the basis of their rough sleeping, a situation that government policies are likely to have played a part in creating. This is completely unreasonable.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said the new rules were “unacceptable and cruel” and would only serve to push people who are in the UK legally and facing homelessness “further into the fringes of society”.

He added: “While the government has stressed that this policy will only be used sparingly for people who refuse support, it is not as clear-cut as this.

“We know through our services that people who have no recourse to public funds because of their immigration status have little or no access to support in the first place and are forced into rough sleeping if they are unable to work. This is a situation that will only worsen as the economic impact of the pandemic begins to bite.”

Mr Sparkes warned that the policy would undermine the effective support the government offered earlier in the year as part of its Everyone In scheme, which aimed to house all rough sleepers during the lockdown.

Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, said the proposals were “deeply disappointing and counterproductive” and would “only serve to dehumanise and criminalise" people for not having a home, leaving victims of modern slavery “particularly susceptible”. 

He added: “The rules will also undermine trust in homeless charities providing vital support, as has happened with similar policies in the past, causing people to avoid seeking help in the first place.”

Anna Yassin, migrant project manager at Glass Door, said she was concerned that the legislation would “perpetuate an environment of fear” and prevent people from seeking the support they need to move beyond homelessness. 

“We will have an even tougher time supporting people who are extremely vulnerable. We’re handing over power to human traffickers, essentially allowing them to operate in the shadows with people who will be afraid to seek help,” she added.

The Home Office declined to comment on these specific criticisms.

The latest official figures show that more than one-quarter of rough sleepers in the UK are foreign nationals, with 22 per cent from the EU and 4 per cent from outside the EU and the UK, while the nationality of an additional 10 per cent was unknown.

A previous Home Office policy to deport rough sleepers from countries in the European Economic Area was ruled unlawful by the High Court in 2017 after a challenge brought on behalf of two Polish men and a Latvian.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said: “Deporting people for being homeless is immoral. These plans would be appalling at any moment, but what makes it even worse is putting this forward as we face the deepest recession in generations and in the middle of a global pandemic.

“It’s completely unacceptable and tells you all you need to know about this morally bankrupt Tory government.”

Under the new immigration rules, all foreign nationals who have been sentenced to at least a year in prison – whether in Britain or overseas - will also be banned from entering the UK, in a significant tightening of restrictions.

Currently under EU law, the Home Office must demonstrate that EU nationals present a “genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat” in order to restrict their free movement rights, and this decision cannot be based solely on the criminal conviction.

The new rules will mean that as well as people sentenced to more than 12 months in jail being banned, those sentenced to less than a year could still be prevented from entering the UK, with the Home Office considering on a case-by-case basis their full criminal history and whether they have ties to the country.

Individuals who have not received a prison sentence could also be barred depending on the circumstances, for example if their offending is persistent or causes serious harm, or if it is decided that their presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good.

The Home Office said the changes would not apply to EU citizens already living in the UK, but that if an individual that fell into this bracket committed crimes after 1 January 2021, in the UK or overseas, their status could be revoked. 

Home Office to carry out review of hostile environment following Windrush says Priti Patel

There will be some limited exceptions, such as if banning someone from the UK would breach the European Convention on Human Rights, or if their criminal offence is not recognised in the UK, according to the department.

Immigration barrister Colin Yeo said UK officials at the border may not know who has committed offences abroad if Brexit removes the UK’s access to EU criminal record databases.

“The reality is that it will actually be harder to prevent the entry of serious criminals because UK officials will not know who they are,” he added.

Home secretary Priti Patel said the rules formed part of the “firmer and fairer” approach the government is taking to the immigration system where people from across the world will be “treated equally”.

“For too long, EU rules have forced us to allow dangerous foreign criminals, who abuse our values and threaten our way of life, onto our streets,” she added.

A government spokesperson added: “We are committed to transforming the lives of some of the most vulnerable in society and to ending rough sleeping for good. This year alone the Government is spending over £700m in total to tackle homelessness.

“The new rules provide a discretionary basis to cancel or refuse a person’s leave where they are found to be rough sleeping and refuse offers of support or are engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour. The new provision will be used sparingly and only where individuals refuse to engage with the range of support available.”

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