Roma gypsies warned over risk of deportation after Brexit without paperwork proving residency

Travellers fear they could face the same threats of deportation as Windrush Generation

Thursday 01 November 2018 22:07
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Immigration lawyer Christopher Desira warned that travellers should start gathering paperwork such as tax documents
Immigration lawyer Christopher Desira warned that travellers should start gathering paperwork such as tax documents

Travellers and Roma gypsies have been warned about the risk of deportation after Brexit if they fail to possess the correct paperwork, amid fears of a Windrush-style crackdown by the Home Office.

Those at risk have been urged to gather as many official documents as possible in case they are asked to prove their residency in the UK after the country leaves the EU.

At the Traveller Movement national annual conference, community leaders discussed the difficulties many from the Roma and traveller communities may face proving they have lived in the UK for at least five years.

Many feared they could face the same threats of deportation as the Windrush Generation in the years after Brexit because of lack of official paperwork.

Low levels of literacy, digital illiteracy, cost, lack of awareness of the implications of Brexit and deep distrust of state institutions such as the Home Office were all cited as barriers preventing travellers and Roma gypsies applying for settled status by the deadline of June 30 2021.

Immigration lawyer Christopher Desira warned that travellers should start gathering paperwork such as tax documents, education certificates, bank statements or employment contracts if they do not have a passport in case they are asked to prove they have lived in the UK for at least five years.

"The Home Office is particularly worried about fraud," he said.

He said that in an extreme scenario, travellers unable to prove their residency could be held indefinitely in a detention centre, despite having no country of origin other than the UK.

Mr Desira said such an outcome was unlikely for British travelling communities but emphasised that life could become more difficult for anyone without a passport after Brexit.

Some delegates said gathering the documents would prove difficult for many travellers who may have lived in the UK for their entire lives but might never have registered with a doctor or attended school.

Sarah Zawacki, a representative of the Roma Support Group which works with primarily Polish, Romanian and Slovakian Roma gypsies, said language barriers and distrust of government was also preventing the community applying for settled status.

She told the meeting the £65 cost per application - which is an online process - was also a problem.

"Our work with (Roma communities) found that there was also a very low awareness of the need to apply to secure their position in the UK.

"Now they know there is this application, but it's £65 - many are on very low incomes and have very large families and it's just unfeasible.

"Then there is the language barrier - many speak some English but it's not the level needed to access this application."

There are an estimated 300,000 Roma living in the UK.

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Ms Zawacki said women in Roma communities are particularly vulnerable as they may never have worked or been registered with an official organisation even if they have lived in the UK for decades as they would traditionally be looking after children.

She said the same concerns applied to the elderly who may have been brought to the UK to be looked after or to look after children.

Trust is also such a problem that those who came to the organisation for help are unwilling to answer an anonymous survey asking only "Do you have a chip passport" and "Do you have £65" because of the questions' connection with immigration authorities.

Asked if it was possible the UK could carry out mass deportations of Roma gypsies she said: "The Home Office has given no clarity on what will happen to people who have their application refused apart from that they can apply again - even then they would have to pay another £65."

The conference comes a week after the Government announced a £9m fund to help vulnerable people - such as people with learning or physical disabilities, mental health problems or low literacy - gain settled status.

The government uses a digital system to track settled status, but among attendees at the Traveller Movement conference there were calls for a physical certificate to be provided that can be passed on to children and grandchildren if their immigration status is called into question.

A representative of the Traveller Movement said one of the goals was to ensure that part of the £9m fund was awarded to organisations working with travellers and Roma communities.

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