Good news in a hostile environment

On December 14th 2017 the High Court ruled the Home Office’s policy of detaining and removing EEA rough sleepers unlawful.

The full judgment can be found here.

There is more work to be done, both to support homeless people affected by the policy to understand their rights and to make sure that the Tories (and the charities and local authorities who collaborated with them to deport rough sleepers) don’t backslide.


Cut the collaboration

Twitter storm – Thursday 23rd November 10am-12pm

On 21st-23rd November, a Judicial Review is taking place against a Home Office policy detaining and deporting hundreds of European rough sleepers, simply for being homeless. This policy is sinister, feeding into the government’s ‘hostile environment’ agenda.

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

St Mungo’s, Thames Reach and Change, Grow, Live’s outreach teams are helping the Home Office implement the policy through a culture of information sharing, joint patrols and “local cooperation agreements”. Joint working between homelessness charities and the Home Office turns outreach workers into border guards, preventing homeless people from seeking help, in the name of reducing numbers by any means necessary. You can read more about our campaign against charity collaboration here.

We don’t want St Mungo’s, Thames Reach or Change, Grow, Live to get off lightly, even though they aren’t being tried in Court. As evidenced by Corporate Watch, these charities pushed for increased collaboration with immigration enforcement and helped to bring this divisive policy into being. We’re calling on St Mungo’s, Thames Reach, and Change, Grow, Live to immediately stop collaborating with ICE in the detention and removal of EU nationals rough sleeping.

Please join us on Thursday 23rd November—the last day of the hearing—in creating a Twitter storm against these charities between 10am-12pm (but feel free to start before and continue after!) We’re asking people to Tweet St Mungo’s (@StMungos), Thamesreach (@ThamesReach), and Change, Grow, Live (@changegrowlive). We’re using the hashtag #CutTheCollaboration to help keep track of them.

We’ve included some sample tweets below which will easily allow you to express your anger:

Sample tweet 1

Sample tweet 2

Sample tweet 3

Sample tweet 4

Sample tweet 5

We’ve also got some graphics (see below) to help the storm get more attention!

Please share this information with your networks and help us show solidarity with vulnerable migrants in our communities!


Thames ReachSt Mungo's

Two new short films highlight the cruelty and violence of the hostile environment.

We made one of them (with Whalebone Films). We’re featured in the other (made by the Guardian)

The first film is about a Romanian couple who were detained in Yarl’s Wood for sleeping rough and the effect the experience has had on their lives and their faith in the society in which they live.


The subject of the second film is ‘Britain’s homeless children’—forced to sleep on buses or other public places because their parents have no recourse to public funds.


There are still too few first-person stories out there about the human cost of the UK government’s current border policies. Those of us who know what goes on need to be better at making sure they are told.


Big asks and little asks for Labour.

On September 18th NELMA spoke at an event called ‘Immigration policy: what is the scope for a radical approach from Labour’. (We haven’t joined the Labour Party. We were invited to give the perspective of grassroots migrants’ rights activists.)

In case anyone’s interested, we’ve published our talk below:

I’ll start with a couple of stories about people we know.

Teofil was in his tent keeping warm when immigration came for him. It was his day off from the bread factory. He told the officers: “I’m legal. I’m working. Please check my papers.” He only has three years of school but his English is fluent.

He showed them his work contract, his pay slips from the factory, His Big Issue vendor’s badge. He had two jobs. Immigration said: “It doesn’t matter. You’re being arrested because you’re homeless”.

Teofil spent twenty-six days in Yarl’s Wood detention centre. It took that long partly because he had to do his own appeal. There’s no legal aid. It took that long partly because nobody told him he could appeal.

He was saving for a deposit when he was detained. He lost both jobs. When the Home Office let him out they kept his ID for three months. No explanation. No chance of work.

He tried to join the library. To keep warm. No documents. No chance.

He’s still on the streets.

Grace* is 20. Her parents brought her the UK from Nigeria—illegally—when she was 12. As a young adult she was granted leave to remain, but with no recourse to public funds.

So when Grace got pregnant and her boyfriend physically kicked her out, there was no state to turn to. She spent the last few months of her pregnancy sleeping on the floor of her aunt’s one-bed.

When the baby was born her aunt couldn’t cope. She kicked Grace out too.

There are rules in this country that are supposed to keep kids off the streets. But London local authorities—Labour local authorities—systematically flout those rules with respect to migrant children. The social workers looked at Grace’s Facebook page. Plenty of friends and family there, they said. You can’t be homeless. But nobody wanted Grace or her baby.

Guess what the social workers said next? Go back to your partner. Or if you won’t do that, give up your child.

NELMA has kept Grace housed ever since. The case is trundling through the courts. Without support from groups like ours, lots of women like Grace give up—go underground, go home with anyone they can find. There’s no other choice.

Child poverty’s a Labour issue. Decent homes and workers’ rights used to be, I believe. And yet, when NELMA campaigns around these issues, elected Labour politicians and Labour-run local authorities are, for the most part, our antagonists rather than our allies.

With a few exceptions, the only way to compel Labour-run local authorities to uphold the rights of destitute migrant children is to take them to court. Sadiq Khan, who sees rough sleeping as a ‘scar on the face of London’, refuses to oppose the Home Office’s policy of locking homeless people up without charge. Tincture of migrant colours the waters. Muddies the picture. Allowing Labour people to justify, or acquiesce in, or just keep schtum about, the otherwise unpalatable.

The human rights abuses I’ve just told you about—because that’s what they are—are so egregious that talk about triangulation, or the necessary soft pedal, or squaring the circle, or politics as the art of the possible, feels distasteful.

Even if ‘British jobs for British workers’ strikes you as a reasonable idea—as it does Owen Smith—it’s unlikely you think it’s reasonable to punish children for the perceived sins of the fathers.

Even if you believe, as Andy Burnham does, that the failure of immigration controls threatens the ‘safety of our streets’, it’s unlikely you’d lobby for the effective suspension of habeas corpus for homeless people.

Nobody’s asking, or expecting Jeremy Corbyn to say open the borders; only to say—some things will not pass.

In Britain in the twenty-first century we imprison people indefinitely without charge because they are homeless. In Britain in the twenty-first century we’re willing to leave children on the streets because their parents have the wrong papers. And these aren’t epiphenomena, or accidents. They’re the result of policy, deliberately made. Policy that went unopposed.

Is Labour just not paying attention, the way you don’t pay attention when it’s easier, less awkward, not to know what’s going on?

So: the “grassroots perspective”. There’s a big ask to Labour and, failing that, a little ask. The big ask goes like this:

Remember all the things you were taught you can’t say or else nobody would vote for you? And then remember Trump. And Corbyn. And Brexit. If all bets are off, psephologically, as they seem to be, what a release. What an opportunity to find orientation in your convictions.

If in your secret heart you believe there’s a post colonial critique, or a very gently Marxist—or a social democratic—critique, to be made of Tory immigration policy, surely now’s the time to make it.

There are clever ways of framing it, of dovetailing with existing causes. Think of DACA in the US, or the Sanctuary Cities movement. Migrants rights activists and the Democratic Party working together. You could start with the children who were born in the UK, go to school here, but don’t have the same rights as their peers. That shouldn’t be too hard a sell.

The little ask is this: carry on triangulating if you must. But at least raise your voice when the abuses committed by this government are so glaring are so that it’s a moral imperative to oppose them.

If, even then, Labour baulks, for fear of an imagined Middle England, or just because by now it’s a conditioned reflex, it’s going to be hard for people like me to see the party as anything other than part of the problem.

 *Not her real name.


NELMA Section 17 accompanying stats reveal…what we already knew, but the LAs persist in denying.

We’ve been crunching the numbers from the 50 or so destitute migrant families NELMA has accompanied to London local authorities since our accompanying scheme began in the spring of 2016.

Caveat: it’s a relatively small data set and we’re not professional statisticians. But our volunteer accompaniers take extremely detailed notes and we’re confident that our data gives a decent general picture of what’s going on.

Here are some headlines:

  • 62% of families accompanied by NELMA were given false information about Section 17.
  • 36% of families were falsely told their immigration status made them ineligible for support.
  • Families with less secure immigration status were more commonly lied to, especially in relation to immigration matters. 63% were given spurious immigration advice.
  • Families waited over 80 minutes on average before being seen.
  • Visits to social services lasted over four-and-a-half hours on average.
  • 51% of families experienced intimidation or threats.
  • 29% of families were threatened with deportation.  50% of families with no leave to remain and no application were threatened with deportation.
  • 40% of families faced disbelief or were accused of dishonesty by social workers.
  • Overall, 69% of families experienced intimidation, blame, disbelief or hostility during the interview process. This rises to 88% for families with no leave to remain in the UK and no imminent application to regularise.

So this is why we accompany.

Though we don’t have stats to prove it, it’s clear to us that the presence of a NELMA accompanier makes a vital difference to the experience families have when they approach social services.

If more than 50% experience intimidation or threats even in the presence of a witness, we can only guess at what the figure might be for families who go to social services on their own.

There are still places available on NELMA’s upcoming accompanying training sessions. If you’re available between 9-5 on at least some weekdays and want to show solidarity with destitute migrant families, please get in touch.


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.