Today a High Court judge ruled that detaining and deporting of homeless EU migrants is illegal. The legal challenge to Tory policy of deportations of rough sleeping EU nationals was brought by the Public Interest Law Unit and North East London Migrant Action. The government argued that becoming homeless was an abuse of EU freedom of movement rights, and, in government’s view similar to sham marriages and obtaining fake documents.
The deportations of homeless EU citizens was introduced by the Home Office in May 2016. The new policy was part of creating “hostile environment” for migrants in the UK. The government claimed that rough sleeping was an ‘abuse’ of European nationals’ right of freedom of movement. The implication of this policy was that rough sleepers could be ‘administratively removed’ (or, to put it simply, deported) from the UK purely on the basis that they were sleeping rough.
Since the policy was introduced, Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams have carried out a large number of raids on the sleeping sites of EEA nationals sleeping rough in the UK. Migrants from Central and Eastern Europe—Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria—have been particularly affected, but Italian and Portuguese nationals have also been detained and removed. As a result, until September 2017 5,321 Europeans were held in immigration removal centres before being violently removed from the country.
Today, Judge Lang said that the government was breaking the law and could no longer equate rough sleeping with illegal activities and breach of freedom of movement rights. She also dismissed assertions by the Home Office that people come to the UK to “intentionally and persistently” sleep rough.
Many homeless people targeted by the Home Office were vulnerable individuals who had fallen on hard times. Many were working, but unable to afford overpriced private rents, and, due to harsh welfare restrictions inflicted on EU nationals, were not eligible for help from local councils, homeless charities, and the government. Instead they were offered voluntary return to their country of origin. Those who refused were flagged up to the Home Office.
Some cases of deportations were, frankly, ridiculous: the author of this text dealt with a case of a Polish man, who was detained and deported after he was picked up by the police while he was sitting at a bench in a park in London and looking at his phone in order to find directions to his home. His “crimes” were mostly lack of English language skills necessary to explain that indeed he has a home, and lack of funds for legal advice. In September 2017, another Polish man committed suicide while awaiting deportation in Harmondsworth detention centre.
As a result of today’s verdict, those who have been detained and deported under the scheme may now be able to sue the Home Office for compensation.