Not ‘theirs’. Ours.

Depriving a person of their liberty is a very serious thing to do.

This fact is generally acknowledged in UK law. The police can only hold suspects for 24 hours before they have to either charge them or let them go. If they’re dealing with a suspected murderer, they might get to keep them for up to 96 hours. Terrorist suspects can be detained without charge for up to fourteen days.

Indefinite detention is most commonly the lot of people deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others due to mental illness. Such powers are misapplied with frightening frequency in the UK. But mental health law dictates that a decision to ‘section’ somebody must be agreed by three highly-trained professionals.

The rough sleepers NELMA has spoken to about their detention breached no laws. They didn’t even break immigration rules. They speak sagely—and above all sanely—about the ordeal the UK government has put them through.

Teofil and Marineta, who feature in the video for our crowdfunding appeal, were locked up in Yarl’s Wood, a detention centre with a recent history of serious sexual abuse by guards, for almost a month.  They weren’t told when—or if—they would be released. And nobody mentioned that they could appeal.

They were told why they had been imprisoned. It was because they didn’t have anywhere to live.

Mihal and Teodora spent three months in Yarl’s Wood. Guards confiscated Teodora’s thyroid medication and wouldn’t give it back. Mihal witnessed one of the many suicide attempts made by desperate detainees. Mihal and Teodora were working when they were raided by immigration. They had been sleeping rough for three days.

There was no vote in parliament to allow the detention of rough sleepers. Theresa May just changed the rules one day. Low-level functionaries—not specialist professionals—get to decide that a homeless person should be locked up. Without charge. Indefinitely.

Please give to our crowdfunder. It could be the best chance we have of defeating this unfair and inhumane policy. But it could also be the beginning of a fightback against a frightening erosion of civil liberties. Not ‘theirs’. Ours.

The Public Interest Law Unit at Lambeth Law Centre, along with NELMA, are bringing a judicial review against a Home Office policy seeking to remove EEA Nationals for rough sleeping. 

‘We weren’t upset or worried at first. We had all our papers in order.’

Here is the second in our series of interviews with people affected by the Home Office’s policy of detaining and deporting rough sleepers.

Mihal and Teodora*

We’re from Bulgaria, but before we came to the UK we lived in Greece for a long time. We did seasonal work in the fields, mostly picking olives. For four months of the year we could earn well—€30 a day—but the rest of the year was hard.

We came to the UK because we had heard it was the country with the most work. We thought it would be good here, and at first it was. Mihal got a job as a handyman. He was earning decent money. Then we found a place to live in Ealing.

Mihal doesn’t speak much English, so he worked with a friend. When his friend left, it became much more difficult for him to get jobs. The house in Ealing also turned out badly. The guy we were living with was drinking heavily and was impossible to live with. So we left.

We slept rough outside Victoria station for three nights because we had nowhere else to go. During the day we looked for work and for a place, and at night we slept out. We found a place to live in the first couple of days—we were just waiting for two people to move out.

But then immigration came. It was about one in the morning. They came to our sleeping site—there were lots of us sleeping there, mainly Romanians. We were sleeping on cardboard, and on top of us we had the blankets from our house in Ealing.

There were about five of them, maybe more. They were polite but they didn’t explain anything. They took our details and gave us papers saying we had to report to Becket House. That was all. We weren’t upset or worried at first. We had all our papers in order, so we would be fine.

But when we went to sign—this was three days later—they were rude to us. They told us we had been served papers because we were sleeping on the streets. We asked for an interpreter but didn’t get one. One immigration officer said: ‘Shut up! Fuck you! Go back to Bulgaria.’ We signed something else but I don’t know what it was. Then they took our passports away and detained us.

They put us in Yarl’s Wood. They took Teodora’s medication away and kept it at reception. She’s not well. She can’t do anything without it. We were in there for three months and fifteen days. It was time of fear and stress. Teodora was crying. Her pulse was fast. She couldn’t breathe. She was always in the hospital wing.

It felt like a prison. Knock on wood, we’ll never go back. We saw lots of people try to kill themselves. It happened every day. They took away our mobile phones. I would die before going back. I’m not a criminal.

Our solicitor got us out. We don’t know how or why. We could have been there forever. Whoever works in immigration needs to know it’s not a good job. They’re like criminals. I want the big boss to know what happened to us. I’d like to choke the big boss.

We want to leave the UK. We want to go back to our family. If they had just deported us straightaway, it would have been OK. But they kept us there for three months. And then they kept our passports after we got out. So we can’t get an address, or a National Insurance number, or anything. Teodora has been offered a good job as a cleaner in a hotel. But she can’t do it.

Lots of people have helped us. We wouldn’t have survived without them. Now we’re waiting for our day in court.

*Not their real names.

 

 

‘This policy really hurts people.’

We’ve been interviewing European homeless people affected by the Home Office’s policy of detaining and deporting rough sleepers.

This is Mateusz’s* story:

I’m 54 years old. I was born in a small town in Poland.

I came to the UK in 2013. I had savings of about £2500, so I planned to live off those while I looked for a job. I had spent time in other countries—in America, Italy, France, Yugoslavia—and wanted to try somewhere new, and see how it went. I wanted to see what life was like for Poles living in London. It helped that my brother had lived here for over ten years, and had networks here. He said it would be a good idea for me to come here.

When I arrived I took English classes at college for three months. I was looking forward to a new life, and new experiences. But the whole experience has turned out to be disappointing.

It was never difficult to find a job. Some of the work was OK, and some was exploitative. When I worked for other Polish people, they mostly paid me properly, and the conditions were good. The worst experience was when I worked as a rubbish collector for the Hilton hotel chain. I worked 220 hours in a single month and at the end of the month they paid me £700. So I left. But I have good memories of the other people—mainly Italians—who worked there with me.

But the living conditions for migrant workers in the UK were the worst I had ever experienced. For a while I shared a room with nine other adults and a baby. I was really shocked that this was all that was available for workers. There was and remains a lot of exploitation, including exploitation of Polish people by Polish people. Once when I was doing casual work as a painter in Stamford Hill, they worked us so hard that I said I’m not doing this any more. My employer said I owed him £600 for not turning up.

I spent two years working as a painter and decorator. For much of this time I was living with my brother. This was good for a while, but then my brother’s wife developed a drug problem. I ended up having an argument about this over Skype with relatives back in Poland. This strained the relationship with my brother. Eventually, my brother and his wife moved outside of London, to a small town, and I decided not to go with them.

I lived with different friends for 6 months after my brother moved away. Moving from one place to another, it was harder to get steady work, but I used to pick up odd jobs here and there.

Eventually, though, my friends’ hospitality ran out, and I ended up alone, and on the streets. I find it distressing to have people look at me when I’m on the streets. I feel like they despise me for being homeless. I feel shame at being in this position.

Through a Polish man I met on the street, I learnt about the Big Issue, and began selling it in Finsbury Park. Selling the Big Issue made things slightly easier for me—at least I had a little money. For a few months I was going to the Passage, a homelessness charity in Victoria, for the soup kitchen, and to take a shower. But when they found out I was selling the Big Issue, and doing other odd jobs, they said I wasn’t eligible for their services any more.

I ended up sleeping at an encampment near Seven Sisters with a group of other Polish men. One night I came back late and immigration enforcement was there. I literally bumped into them as they were there serving papers on some of the other guys.

There were about eight immigration officers, maybe ten. They served me and the others with removal notices. They wouldn’t explain the reason, or tell us what crime we had committed—they literally would say nothing about it—but on the letters they gave us it said we were abusing our treaty rights by rough sleeping. They took away all our ID documents and didn’t tell us anything about appeal rights.

Some of the guys were taken away that night to the detention centre at Heathrow. I don’t know why I wasn’t. Maybe because they didn’t see me bedding down. Of the guys who were taken away, one was released because he was seriously ill as a result of his alcohol problem, but the others were kept there for a couple of months before being deported.

The charities weren’t involved, I don’t think. But we all knew that some of the homeless charities are fake – they pretend to help people but actually they gather information for the Home Office. Friends told me that, in another raid in Tottenham, charity outreach workers helped immigration enforcement detain four people, two of whom were deported back to Poland.

Being served removal papers and having my documents taken away has had a massive impact on my life. I am suffering from stress. I feel absolutely restless and like I have to be on my guard all the time. I’m afraid I’ll be stopped again. I don’t sleep well—I have nightmares about that raid.

I feel like my condition has deteriorated a lot since that raid. I feel a lot worse. I’ve been offered jobs, but I can’t take them because employers want to see my ID documents, and the Home Office has got them. Even if I had the money, I couldn’t rent a flat now. Without documents it’s impossible to live a normal, dignified life.

As soon as I get my documents back I want to go back to Poland. I’m very tired and disappointed by the UK. Life here has been completely different from what I imagined and hoped. But it’s ironic – now I want to go back, but I can’t until I have my documents back.

I feel that my friends and I are being treated like criminals even though we haven’t done anything wrong. I feel hurt by what has happened. This policy really hurts people and is completely unreasonable. Most of the people I’ve met on the streets are in work but can’t afford accommodation. They really wanted to improve their situation – they were real fighters – and some of them had absolutely nothing in Poland. Deportation would not be a solution for them as they have no networks. Most people on the streets would be better off being helped into work and accommodation in the UK, rather than being deported. The problem is accommodation – it’s too expensive for working people.

If I thought I could get that sort of help, I would have loved to stay here in the UK. I don’t think the government is doing anything good for migrants, and it will only get worse after Brexit. That’s another reason to go home. Immigrants are massively exploited here: the people I know are working really long hours and aren’t paid properly. Sometimes they’re not paid at all. I don’t feel like I’m wanted or valued as a person. My labour is not valued.

*Not his real name.

 

No More Broken Promises! Twitterstorm against Hackney Council’s Mayor Glanville

On December 20th 2016, a group of NELMA families met with Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney. 

We gave Mayor Glanville a dossier documenting Hackney’s poor treatment of destitute migrant families who seek support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. We told the mayor about:

  • Unlawful ‘gatekeeping’ (destitute families being kept waiting for hours or misled about their entitlements to support)
  • Hackney’s frequent refusal to offer interim support while child-in-need assessments are conducted, leaving children street homeless in the meantime.
  • Shockingly low rates of financial assistance (as low as £15 per person per week) for families who do get support
  • The poor quality and unsuitability of some of the accommodation given to families supported by Hackney under Section 17
  • The fear and intimidation caused to families by Hackney Council’s ‘embedded’ immigration officer.

An overview of the evidence we submitted to Hackney Council can be viewed here.

During our meeting, Mayor Glanville was full of promises and goodwill. He apologised directly to one family for the poor treatment they had experienced, and he promised that:

  • Sarah Wright, Hackney Director of Children and Families would be investigating the concerns raised by NELMA and one of our partner organisations, Project 17
  • A separate internal review would be conducted into how Hackney treats destitute migrant families who seek support – and NELMA would be informed of the outcome.
  • Hackney would publish clear policies on rates of support and the presence of the Home Office in social services.

Nearly 6 months have gone by. Apart from a single follow-up email (received on December 20th 2016) in which he reiterated his promises, Mayor Glanville has gone completely quiet. Despite multiple reminders from NELMA, we’ve had:

  • No response to the concerns we raised
  • No indication of an internal review
  • No news of any new policies around rates of support or Home Office presence.
  • No reply to our emails!

 Is the Mayor unwell? Has the keyboard on his laptop broken? Or is this just another case of crowd-pleasing rhetoric followed by broken promises?

On Wednesday May 31st between 5-6pm, join us in reminding Mayor Philip Glanville about his promises – and Hackney’s responsibility to treat destitute migrant families lawfully – and with dignity and respect.

Here’s what you can do:

Help us put pressure on Philip Glanville by tweeting

Sample tweet 1: No more gatekeeping of support for destitute migrant families! #stopignoringus @philipglanville @hackneycouncil @mayorofhackney

Sample tweet 2: Don’t break your promises, @philipglanville. Migrant families deserve to be heard! @hackneycouncil #Stopignoringus

Sample tweet 3: WTF are the Home Office doing in @hackneycouncil’s Children’s Services?@philipglanville @mayorofhackney #StopIgnoringUs

Please use our graphic too!

hackney stop breaking copy5

Send the Mayor an email asking him why he’s ignoring NELMA

Write the Mayor an email calling on him to reply to NELMA’s concerns about Hackney Council’s treatment of migrant families with no recourse to public funds. 

Email: philip.glanville@hackney.gov.uk 

Please join us on Wednesday and spread the word far and wide! 

Thanks for your support. 
 
Solidarity, 
 
NELMA

Online actions work – shame on St Mungo’s

eu-removals-1

 

HASL’s FOI requests recently revealed that three prominent homelessness charities including St Mungo’s were collaborating with the Home Office’s policy of arresting, detaining and deporting rough sleeping EEA migrants. The full reports are available here and here.

We noticed that St Mungo’s were scheduled to speak at four high-profile legal conferences in London and Manchester. They were also due to receive donations from the conference delegates.

St Mungo’s were going to talk about homelessness and migration rights, and homelessness and the criminal law. That is deeply ironic. It is difficult for many people to understand how St Mungo’s had become involved with the legally shaky policy of deporting EEA rough sleepers on the bizarre basis that they are ‘abusing their treaty rights’.

HASL, NELMA and others contacted the organisers of the conference. We also contacted the lawyers who were due to speak. Originally the organisers said that they were giving St Mungo’s the opportunity to respond – but we pointed out that they had already done so in the national press. Nothing St Mungo’s said justified their involvement in deporting homeless people against their will. Of course, nothing could justify it.

Within a few days the organisers had pulled the St Mungo’s speakers and removed them as recipients of donations. Our online action worked.

The fact that this action was so effective shows how strongly people feel about these homeless charities’ actions. People won’t tolerate the vile practice of deporting people because they have become homeless. People won’t stand with those who are complicit with the Home Office’s racist scheme.

Schools, landlords, hospitals – borders are everywhere. It’s extremely difficult for migrants to trust officials and institutions, and St Mungo’s complicity with the Home Office has done irreparable damage by adding to the suspicion, wariness and fear that many vulnerable migrants feel. It’s so important that there are lawyers who are on their side, and who oppose these racist practices. We’re really glad that the Immigration Law Friends Society and Criminal Law Friends Society decided to stand with us in making sure that St Mungo’s actions are not legitimised. We welcome the opportunity to work with lawyers who support migrants’ and housing rights.

Homelessness charities and local authorities complicit in detention and deportation of EU nationals rough sleeping

Three of London’s largest homelessness charities (St. Mungo’s, Thames Reach and Change, Grow, Live – formerly known as Crime Reduction Initiative) are collaborating with the Home Office to have EU rough sleepers detained without charge and removed to their country of origin purely on the basis that they are rough sleeping.

Since November 2015 the Home Office has considered rough sleeping an “abuse’’ (or, more recently, a ‘‘misuse’’) of EU Treaty right to freedom of movement. This change of policy has effectively criminalised EU nationals who are sleeping rough, making them liable to be served with removal papers or taken to detention centres and deported.

Why this is wrong

Local authority-commissioned street outreach teams from St. Mungo’s, Thames Reach and Change, Grow, Live patrol alongside Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams and share the locations of European nationals sleeping rough, circumventing the requirement that clients consent to their personal information being shared. In some cases, they ‘refer’ individuals to the Home Office without their consent. The involvement of local councils and homelessness charities in immigration raids on rough sleepers is symptomatic of the extension of border controls into all aspects of civil society in the UK.

The change in the Home Office’s guidance means that even someone with a job or permanent resident status can be detained without charge and removed to their country of origin. Many of those affected by this divisive new policy have lived in the UK for years, usually working and paying tax. They end up on the streets due to harsh welfare rules that limit their entitlement to benefits. Some rough sleepers may also have substance use or mental health issues.

Apart from believing that homelessness is not a crime, we believe that the Home Office is targeting some of the most vulnerable people in our society—people who should be supported, not criminalised.

We call upon St. Mungo’s Broadway, Thames Reach and Change, Grow, Live to immediately:

  1. Stop participating in enforcement actions that involve the detention and removal of EU nationals rough sleeping;
  2. Advocate on behalf of rough sleepers and against the government’s attack on EU nationals;
  3. Provide rights-based advice for EU nationals sleeping rough, referring out to legal agencies where necessary, e.g. complex welfare benefits or immigration cases;
  4. Begin investigations to ensure the welfare of those currently in detention and all those returned.

Signatories:

North East London Migrant Action (NELMA)

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL)

Haringey Migrant Support Centre

Hackney Migrant Centre

North London Action for the Homeless

Right to Remain

Movement for Justice

Radical Housing Network

Jerome Phelps, Detention Action

Digs

Focus E15

Roots to Return

Fuel Poverty Action

Jon Glackin, Streets Kitchen

Akwaaba

Left Unity

Refugees Welcome Haringey

Barnet Momentum

Barnet Unite Community

Our West Hendon

Barnet Housing Action Group 

Haringey Solidarity Group

Bail for Immigration Detainees

‘The Round-Up: rough sleeper immigration raids and charity collaboration’

Today Corporate Watch published a report entitled ‘The Round-Up: rough sleeper immigration raids and charity collaboration’, which exposes the active collaboration of London’s Mayor, local councils and homelessness charities delivering street outreach services – St Mungo’s, Thames Reach and Change, Grow, Live (CGL).

Homeless people on the streets of London have become prime targets for immigration raids, in which some of the city’s most vulnerable people are detained and deported. Several nights a week, immigration patrols are out targeting rough sleepers in London.

Whilst arrests are carried out by Home Office “Immigration Compliance and Enforcement” (ICE) teams, they rely on joint patrols and other intelligence provided by street outreach services. They may also see their role increase in deciding whether or not it is ‘proportional’ to remove people, effectively giving them the power to decide who is worthy of remaining in the UK and who can be disposed of.

This report shows how:

  • Outreach teams from charities St Mungo’s, Thames Reach, and CGL conduct regular joint “visits” with Immigration Enforcement officers, as often as fortnightly in central boroughs. Freedom of Information (FOI) responses show 141 such patrols organised by the GLA and 12 London boroughs last year. This figure does not include Westminster or the City of London, the biggest concentration of London homelessness, where patrols are likely to be even more frequent.
  • 127 people were deported as a result of a a two-month pilot operation in Westminster alone.
  • “Joint visits” in eight of these boroughs led to another 133 rough sleepers being detained
  • Charity outreach teams routinely pass on locations of non-UK rough sleepers to ICE through the London-wide CHAIN database and through local data co-operation agreements. This intelligence may lead to many more arrests.
  • As opposed to workplace raids which largely hit South Asian migrants, EU and other European Economic Area (EEA) nationals are the main targets here, as they made up nearly half of London rough sleepers last year. Migrants from Romania, Poland, and other East European countries are particularly affected.
  • Under new Home Office rules introduced in May 2016, European rough sleepers can be arrested for deportation on their first night sleeping rough, as this is considered a “misuse” of their European “Treaty rights”. Outreach workers may be called on to guide Immigration Officers in deciding whether detention is “proportional”.
  • Tough policy on migrant rough sleepers was “intensely lobbied” for by Westminster Council, and actively pushed by the GLA and other members of the “Mayor’s Rough Sleeping Group”, including senior managers from St Mungo’s, Thames Reach and other charities.
  • The rough sleeper deportation system is at the cutting edge of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” approach rolling out across schools, hospitals, housing, and other areas of everyday life. This approach relies on turning teachers, doctors and nurses, charity workers, and other citizens into Home Office informers.
  • The “hostile environment” is based on collaboration. It can be broken by solidarity and resistance. Examples of refusal by some homelessness workers and campaigners may start to show the way.

Can you help?

We are continuing to collect information and evidence about rough sleeper patrols.

If you are a homelessness worker, rough sleeper, or have any information that you’d like to share with Corporate Watch, email us at contact[at]corporatewatch.org or call 020 7426 0005. We will respect your confidentiality.

If you have any immediate information about ICE raids, we suggest you contact Anti Raids Network: https://network23.org/antiraids/ email: antiraids@riseup.net  twitter: @antiraids.

Please join our twitter storm tomorrow to help us hold these charities to account!