Lawyers and human rights group criticise deportation of EU rough sleepers


May move European Court of Justice

21st July 2010: The pilot scheme to deport Eastern Europeans found sleeping on the streets in parts of the UK has come under fire. Lawyers and human rights groups have criticised the move. And may eventually result in European Court of Justice being moved for contravening EU law by the activists.

The scheme was introduced by the UK Borders Agency (Ukba) – part of the Home Office – earlier this year. It is being applied in parts of London – the location of more than half of the country’s rough sleepers – as well Oxford, Reading and Peterborough. It facilitates the government to forcibly extradite people if they have been in the UK for longer than three months, but are not, and "have no prospect" of, working or studying. 

  The agency issues notices to the individuals, informing them they must appear at a local police station for an interview to determine whether they have the right to remain in the country.One month into the scheme, more than 200 people had been considered under the pilot, roughly 100 had been served with removal notices and 13 people deported.The Assistant Director of the Aire (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe) Centre, Adam Weiss said while these expulsions have a basis in domestic law, EU law was supreme in this area and any domestic law provision must comply with EU law.

Weiss said that the handling of the scheme could also raise questions about the way central and eastern Europeans are prevented from accessing benefits. Weiss added that EU law made it very difficult to justify expelling an EU national on the basis that that person was not exercising residence rights, which is what the [UK] authorities are trying to do.

The assistant director asserted that the higher courts will find all, or virtually all, of these expulsions unlawful under EU law. Sue Willman, a partner at Pierce Glynn solicitors, which specialises in human rights and discrimination law, commented that a lot of people were self-sufficient, even if they were getting by sleeping rough. William elaborated if they were not claiming benefits; they were not even making any demand on the UK public funds – although some may well have entitlements.

A report earlier this month from the Combined Homeless and Information Network database, which is maintained by homeless charity Broadway, found that the numbers of rough sleepers in the capital had swelled from 2,500 three years ago to 4,000 as a result of increased numbers of homeless migrants from eastern Europe.

The first barrier to work, or to prove to Ukba that they have been working, was a £90 fee for a work permit. For those already struggling, cash-in-hand or unregulated work becomes the easiest option, and consequently many were living in the UK without proof that they have worked for the minimum three-month period required to pass the "right to reside" test.

Even those who have worked legitimately were finding it hard to prove.Andrzej, a construction worker from Poland, was woken in the middle of the night to be given a removal notice and less than two weeks to prove that he should be allowed to stay in the country.Having worked in the UK for several years, he moved to London after losing his job, and now lives on the streets while volunteering for the Salvation Army.

The Chief Executive of outreach charity Streetlytes, Rudi Richardson, said the problem was that the street sleepers may go further underground and become afraid to talk to anybody, simply because they don’t know who to trust. If these people go to a hostel and give their information, for example, they don’t know if it would be passed on to the police.

So they start to feel – and act – like escapees and criminals.It is still early days for the pilot, which is due to continue for another four months before the Home Office considers whether to deploy it more widely. Up-to-date figures for how many rough sleepers have been served with removal notices and deported are not available.

An Ukba spokesman said the scheme was "just one element of an overall plan to tackle rough sleeping and destitution. Reconnections services available to [European Economic Area] national rough sleepers have provided voluntary returns home for hundreds of people in the last 18 months, supporting them into lodging, and reconnecting them with friends and family.Ukba will only take removal action in cases where the individual consistently refused this support, and was left penniless and a problem for their community.

He explained that ID was taken away so that people cannot prevent removal by destroying the document.He added that they were trying out this new approach in a number of areas where rough sleeping and antisocial behaviour were particular challenges, and would carry out a full evaluation of its success before making any decisions. 

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