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One-way ticket

June 06 2010
A deportation scheme is being trialled by UKBA for East European rough sleepers Previously, UKBA was not able to force Europeans to leave the country. However the new scheme, which began on 31 March, gives roughly a month's notice before steps can be taken to forcibly deport people if they have been in the UK for longer than three months, but are not, and "have no prospect" of, working or studying.

UKBA representatives serve individuals who have been identified as "persistent low-level offenders" with written notices, informing them they must appear at a local police station for an interview, to determine whether they have the right to remain in the country.

At one interview, it is understood that authorities confiscated the person's ID, telling them it would be returned only when they were boarding the bus home.

More than 40 notices have been served to people from Eastern European countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Estonia in the London borough of Westminster alone, and 14 interviews have taken place so far. To date, three people have been removed from the borough, and 15 have "chosen to return home voluntarily, as part of this process", the UKBA told The Pavement. In at least two of these cases, it is understood that the people were woken up during the middle of the night, echoing a tactic used by Westminster Council during the last two years as part of Operation Poncho.

The initiative is also being used in Lambeth, Oxford, Reading, Brent and Peterborough.

Although the scheme was started under the Labour government, the pilot schemes will continue running under the new Conservative home secretary Theresa May, and an evaluation will be made in six months' time to decide whether to deploy it more widely. According to London Delivery Board minutes from March, the UKBA and CLG will be reporting progress to ministers each month.

Though the scheme was only adopted recently, a UKBA spokesman said it "builds" on work previously carried out by the agency to enforce immigration law. Spokesman Stephen Carter said: "Last year, we announced powers to remove EEA [European Economic Area] nationals who do not have the right to stay in the UK. In line with that commitment, we have begun trialling this new approach, removing EEA nationals who are not seeking work or studying, or who are persistent offenders who cause harm to our communities."

The initiative so far has been "focusing on problem areas in local communities, including areas where there are challenges with rough sleeping and antisocial behaviour", he added.

"The aim of the scheme is to consider the feasibility of removing persistent low-level offenders who are nationals of the EEA and those who do not have a right to live in the UK. EEA nationals who have been in the country for longer than three months have to be working, studying or self-sufficient in order to have a right to stay. If they are not, or don't have a genuine prospect of doing so, the UK Border Agency expects them to return home," he said.

Mr Carter explained those who had been served with letters had "been identified by the agency in a number of ways, including referrals from local councils and police".

Organisations such as Homeless Link and Streetlytes have sought legal advice on the scheme, but although James Welch, legal director at Liberty, agreed it left people in "an invidious position", he was adamant it breaks no law.

He explained via email: "[A]n unemployed Polish national who has been here for more than the initial 90 days but has not completed a year of registered employment and who is not self-sufficient does not have a right of residency.

"The 2006 Regulations provide that, if there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person does not have a right to reside, they may be detained whilst a decision is made whether or not to remove him/her.

"If an individual is notified that they should leave the country he/she should be given a month in which to comply but could be arrested and detained pending removal."

He added: "This would appear to leave the people who have been given the letters in an invidious position.

"If they do not have a right to reside here and attend the appointments they have been given, they may well be given notification to leave the country at the meeting and could be detained.

"If they do not attend their appointments, that may give sufficient grounds to justify arresting them. Of course they may be able to meet the requirements for residence and will be able to use the opportunity of the meetings to show this."

Mr Welch advised anyone who receives a letter to check their immigration status before attending the interview. "This should allow them to determine whether they do have a right to reside in the UK and, if not, to make an informed decision whether to attend the meeting or not," he said.

But concerns have also been raised that the move may simply drive people underground, away from services designed to help them, out of fear they will be forced to leave the country.

"These people had their work IDs, they had their passports, the only thing they didn't have was a roof over their heads," said Rudi Richardson of Streetlytes. "But once they have been served with the letter, there is no legal representation, no liaison to represent them in their native language.

"And the problem is they may go further underground and become afraid to talk to anybody, simply because they don't know who to trust. If they go to a hostel and give their information, for example, they don't know if it will passed onto the police. So they start to feel - and act - like fugitives, criminals."

But when this point was put to Mr Carter, he said the interview gave individuals "the opportunity to provide evidence that they are exercising a treaty right" - in other words, working or studying.

He added: "This does not affect their ability to request support or voluntary repatriation at any stage of the process. There is a strong link between those involved in rough sleeping for significant periods of time and those with serious health, drug, drink, and social problems."

Nearly 40 per cent of rough sleepers are from the A8 and A2 countries, according to minutes from a London Delivery Board meeting in November. March's minutes recorded that CHAIN had sent outreach providers an "asylum and immigration survey" to ascertain to what extent asylum seekers who have gained status are sleeping rough in London.