(Press release by NELMA)
The Home Office policy criminalising European nationals who become homeless was declared illegal last Thursday by the High Court. The legal challenge was brought by the Public Interest Law Unit (PILU) and North East London Migrant Action (NELMA).
The decision marks an important moment in NELMA’s campaign against the Home Office and its collaborators: the Greater London Authority and the Local Authorities commissioning homeless charities to deliver street outreach services and provide intelligence to Home Office Immigration Enforcement teams. Together they created an effective machine for deportation.
Mrs Justice Lang DBE dismissed both the latest Home Office policy as well as their ongoing operations against homeless European nationals, which have resulted in hundreds of people being detained and deported since November 2015.
The Home Office interpreted rough sleeping as an ‘abuse’ of the right to freedom of movement, which equated rough sleeping with sham marriage and obtaining fake documents. This was further justified in court by assertions that people come to the UK to intentionally and persistently sleep rough, despite no offers being made to individuals to cease sleeping rough.
In reality, many homeless people targeted by the Home Office have fallen on hard times and are working but unable to afford accommodation. Because of harsh welfare restrictions on European nationals, homelessness charities do not house European rough sleepers. Instead they offer them voluntary return to their country of origin. Those who refuse are flagged up to the Home Office.
The numbers of European nationals sleeping rough have been steadily increasing since 2010. But rather than making substantial or systematic attempts to provide solutions to homelessness through accommodation and employment support, local and national authorities have opted to add enforcement measures to austerity policies.
Operations targeting Europeans sleeping rough, with a particular focus on Central and Eastern Europeans, have been ongoing since 2010. In fact they are routinely conducted with local-authority commissioned services for the homeless, delivered by St Mungo’s, Thames Reach and Change Grow Live (CGL). They were also found to be illegal.
Those who have been detained under the scheme will now be entitled to make a claim for compensation against the Home Office.
We hope this decision will put an end to a social policy which used imprisonment and deportation as solutions to eradicate homelessness.
We also hope that charities that have been working with immigration enforcement will review their participation in the policing – lawful or unlawful – of the people they are meant to support.
For more information, please contact:
NELMA – [email protected]