The government have relaunched a controversial programme which gives them the possibility of deporting migrants who are sleeping rough.
We have previously written about the government’s response to rough sleeping and homelessness during COVID-19 with the ‘Everybody In’ programme. As we feared, it was a short-term solution, and now the government are making the lives of rough sleepers even more difficult. They have relaunched the Home Office’s Rough Sleepers Support Service, which entails councils and homelessness charities providing the Home Office with data on rough sleepers in their area, and a set of rules which allow the government to deport migrant sleepers.
The immediate concern is not necessarily that the government will use these rules to start deporting people, though that is definitely a concern given the Home Office’s track record (most notably the Windrush Scandal). The rules state that for deportation to happen “a person has repeatedly refused suitable offers of support and engaged in persistent anti-social behaviour”. So, while this phrasing is troublingly open to interpretation, deportation itself is not necessarily the immediate concern.
Instead, the immediate concern is that the threat of deportation will turn vulnerable groups away from the support they need, because they fear the charities offering help will tell the Home Office where to find them. A migrant from East Africa told The Guardian that he “feared being rounded up and detained” and that he feels hopeless in the face of these rules. Particularly vulnerable groups include people from BAME communities, and survivors of domestic abuse. For instance, a BAME woman suffering from domestic abuse may end up sleeping rough to escape her partner and end up facing deportation. To avoid deportation and therefore avoiding legitimate help, she may end up a victim of modern slavery.
There is also concern that the rules do not take into consideration the many and complicated reasons why people who sleep rough might find it difficult to engage with or accept the support offered. They may have suffered discrimination from charities or local authorities in the past, they may have experienced trauma, and they may have mental health issues, all of which would make them more likely to repeatedly refuse offers of help and be perceived as anti-social — which would be sufficient grounds for deportation.
The pandemic has put more people at risk from suffering homelessness and having to sleep rough, and rough sleeping had already risen by 94% in the past decade, with Black people being at most risk of suffering homelessness. Migrants with ‘no recourse to public funds’ (‘NRPF’) are particularly vulnerable, and even more so due to the job losses the pandemic has brought, since they have no access to housing benefits or unemployment support — even though they have the right to remain in the UK. So, a migrant, who had a job and a home but lost their job due to COVID-19 and was unable to continue paying their rent, may now face deportation simply because they fell on hard times.
These rules form part of the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, which was created to make immigrants who are residing in the UK illegally leave voluntarily. It involves making it more difficult for immigrants to get jobs, open bank accounts, rent a property, and get medical treatment — in short, make it difficult for migrants to access basic support. Not surprisingly, the policy, in addition to not achieving its own goal, has “forced people into destitution, fostered racism and discrimination, and was a driving factor in the emergence of the Windrush scandal”. For example, it will take a BAME family twice as long to find a property to rent as a White British family — simply because they are perceived as ‘foreign’. These policies are inhumane, and create conditions in which migrants — particularly BAME migrants — lack the necessary support to live adequately, and are faced with the threat of deportation when they fall on hard times.
Deportation is not a ‘solution’ to rough sleeping among non-UK nationals, and harsh immigration rules will only create further hardship for vulnerable groups. Instead, the government needs to provide adequate help and support for vulnerable groups, and create an environment in which migrants who do end up sleeping rough can get the help and support they need.
At JAN Trust, we have long advocated for better immigration policies and profound, long-term support for those who sleep rough. We also work to support and empower BAME women, and to combat domestic violence.