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.



‘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. 


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

Thanks for your support. 

Online actions work – shame on St Mungo’s



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.