Local councils have said they will not comply with “cruel” home office plans to deport migrants who are forced to sleep rough, warning the new policy will “play into the hands” of human traffickers.
The Home Office now considers rough sleeping a basis for refusal or cancellation of permission to stay in the country.
The new rules came into force on December 1 and mean non-UK nationals could now face deportation, threatening migrants and asylum seekers who have no recourse to public funds and are legally unable to receive state support.
Over 100 councils, charities and lawyers have written to the Home Secretary Priti Patel warning the changes could have “severe” consequences for modern slavery victims and people who are homeless.
We've joined with other charities, local councils and legal experts to highlight the human impact of new Home Office rules that threaten non-UK nationals with deportation if they're forced to sleep rough. https://t.co/86RpV1144q
— Crisis (@crisis_uk) December 1, 2020
The letter, first reported by The Independent, read: “In short, the rules punish rough sleeping ,force people into riskier and exploitative situations to avoid it and are likely to put victims in a revolving door of abuse and re-victimisation and at increased risk of detention and removal.
“We strongly urge that you revoke the rough sleeping rules to avoid aggravating the already precarious situation that many victims find themselves in and the potential negative impact on the current modern slavery strategy.”
Signatories of the letter include Anti-Slavery International, Crisis, and Homeless Link.
The Home Office said the new policy would be used “sparingly” and “only where individuals refuse to engage with the range of support available and engage in persistent anti-social behaviour”.
Labour-led local councils are, however, continuing to push back. Haringey Council in North London was among the local authorities saying it wouldn’t “collaborate” with the Home Office.
Councillor Emine Ibrahim, Haringey Council’s cabinet member for housing and estate renewal, said: “We absolutely oppose the Home Office’s change to the immigration rules – we feel it’s discriminatory.
“Now more than ever it is vital that as leaders, and as communities, we do all we can in our power to protect the most vulnerable. If people are sleeping rough we should be offering help – not making people fear that they will be refused permission to stay in the country.
“Many people sleeping rough have been exploited and faced unbelievable personal challenges. As a council we work tirelessly to help those sleeping rough get off the streets and to find safety and stability.”
We won't collaborate with Home Office on today’s immigration rule change. Rough sleeping is now grounds for refusal of permission to stay for some non-UK nationals. We oppose this, believe it is discriminatory, & will do all in our power to protect the most vulnerable #Haringey
— Haringey (@haringeycouncil) December 1, 2020
Councillor Helen Dennis, cabinet member for social support and homelessness at Southwark Council, has also voiced her opposition. She told The Big Issue it was “unsurprising” that half of the people counted as sleeping rough in the authority’s most recent annual count have no recourse to public funds.
Councillor Dennis said: “It is inhumane and morally wrong to deport someone, simply for falling on hard times and losing their home. Most foreign nationals are here to work, quite legally, and we should be encouraging them to seek help and support, rather than pushing them away and increasing their vulnerability to modern slavery and other forms of exploitation.”
The government is trying to deport homeless people again.
— Public Interest Law Centre (@publiclawcentre) November 25, 2020
Last week, lawyers launched a crowdfunding campaign to challenge the new plans in court. The Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) met its original £5,000 goal within 24 hours and has since raised almost £8,000.
PILC successfully challenged the policy to deport rough sleepers in the high court in 2017, but it was announced the plans would be reintroduced.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The new rule provides a discretionary basis to cancel or refuse a person’s leave where they are found to be rough sleeping. The new provision will be used sparingly and only where individuals refuse to engage with the range of support available and engage in persistent anti-social behaviour.
“We remain committed to ending rough sleeping for good and have been working hard to ensure the most vulnerable in our society have access to safe accommodation. This year alone, we have provided over £700 million in funding to support rough sleepers.
“The safety and security of modern slavery victims is also a top priority for this Government, and the Victim Care Contract provides support to potential and confirmed victims of modern slavery who consent to support, including accommodation.”
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