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UK policy to deport EU rough sleepers condemned as 'inhumane'

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By Chantal Da Silva
A rough sleeper rests at the entrance of theatre, closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in London on Monday, February 8, 2021.
A rough sleeper rests at the entrance of theatre, closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in London on Monday, February 8, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo

The UK's interior ministry, the Home Office, has sparked an outcry over a policy aimed at allowing authorities to deport homeless people who are not UK nationals after it published guidance on its website setting out how to enforce the new rules.

Introduced as part of Britain's post-Brexit immigration plan, the new rules will allow for EU citizens found rough sleeping to be removed from the country if they refuse support, including accommodations and benefits.

Guidance published by the Home Office this week, as the policy came into affect, said the rules could apply to applications made as far back as "on or after December 1, 2020 and decisions to cancel taken on or after December 1 2020".

However, it said that with the rules having changed officially on April 6, "permission [to remain in the UK] may only be refused or cancelled where a person has repeatedly refused suitable offers of support and engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour".

The Home Office said the policy was introduced as part of a "more robust and consistent framework against which immigration applications are assessed or permission cancelled on suitability grounds".

'We do not accept this policy'

Immigration and homelessness advocates have condemned the plan, however, with leading homelessness charity Crisis branding the new policy "inhumane".

"Everyone in our society should have a safe place to live and shouldn’t face punishment for experiencing homelessness," Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said in a statement shared with Euronews.

"This policy completely goes against this – it is inhumane and its mere existence will make non-UK nationals in vulnerable circumstances fearful of asking for the support they need to help them off the streets," he said.

"To be clear, we do not accept this policy and urge authorities not to use these powers in any circumstances," Sparkes continued.

Concerns for domestic abuse survivors

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs further sounded the alarm, telling The Press Association that she feared that the new rules could force migrants facing homeless to "stay with an abuser rather than risk being thrown out of the country".

"All victims of domestic abuse need and deserve protection - not to be pushed further from support," she said.

"I am calling on the Government to change these guidelines to ensure that migrant domestic abuse victims who are sleeping rough are not impacted by these new rules," Jacobs said.

'Few support options' for rough sleepers

Rather than punishing rough sleepers with the threat of removal, Sparkes suggested that the British government look to find ways to support those in need.

“We know that the avenues of support outlined in the guidance, such as specialist immigration advice, are already in very short supply in many areas across the country," he said. "The guidance itself acknowledges how few support options are available for people in this situation and we know from our own services that this leaves people trapped sleeping rough with no way out."

“​We urgently need to see a clear, national strategy from the Government to end rough sleeping and homelessness," Sparkes asserted. "The focus must be on providing the right support for people on our streets – this means a safe place to stay, immigration advice and employment support so that everyone can leave homelessness behind for good.”

Euronews has contacted the Home Office for comment.