News From The Pavement: Rough Sleeping Eastern Europeans Face Deportation

By Londonist Last edited 101 months ago
News From The Pavement: Rough Sleeping Eastern Europeans Face Deportation

This month Catherine Neilan at The Pavement reports on new legislation in Westminster that means rough-sleeping Eastern Europeans will be deported if they cannot prove they are seeking work.

It is a policy peppered with the language used to veil uncomfortable truths: a ‘clampdown on anti-social behaviour’ and the ‘vulnerable’ in ‘hotspots’ around the London. To the cynic: clearing the streets of a problem no-one knows how to solve.

The Conservatives have long promised a get-tough stance on crime, on unemployment, on immigration - on anything deemed to be the scourge of the beloved Big Society - even if the actual manner in which crime, poverty and joblessness will disappear is never, actually, explained. As the post-election dust settles we are beginning to see how this might happen, and this particular piece of policy is an issue The Pavement has been observing since it launched five years ago: A10s.

A bit of dull but necessary background: members of the European Union are free to move around and work in any other member state's economy. However, in 2004, when 10 Eastern European nations joined up, Governments from more developed economies, such as the UK, introduced a small set of exceptions to the freedom of the Eurozone to discourage our money-strapped neighbours pouring in. This group is called the A10s.

What happened: well life in many Baltic and Balkan states ain't rosy: unemployment is high - over a fifth in some countries - and the difference in quality of life between rural and urban areas is extreme. Thousands saw 2004 as a chance for change and came to Britain to look for work anyway, encouraged by promises of opportunity. Because of the exceptions, the first barrier to work is a £90 fee for a work permit. This is a meagre amount to most, a month's wages to some and means that cash-in-hand or unregulated work becomes the easiest option.

In line with the rise in Poles and Lithuanians working on building sites, farms and offices across Britain, came the rise in the number of A10 migrants sleeping rough, using street services, soup runs and hostels. A third of those sleeping rough in Westminster alone are from Eastern Europe. A further barrier is that no support - housing nor unemployment benefit - can be sought until you can prove you've worked for at least a year. And as homeless hostels and local authorities rely on these funds for accommodation the A10s end up costing councils tens of thousands of pounds.

Over the last five years, hostels The Pavement works with have tried to adapt; employing interpreters and immigration specialists to support the needs of their, now, biggest clients. In 2009 charities such as Thames Reach began paying for the repatriation of A10s.

But last month this policy went one step further with those found sleeping in the capital, picked up by police, asked to prove they are seeking work, and if they can't then the individual is referred to the UK Border Agency for deportation.

Proving you are seeking something could be the ultimate Catch22.

It is not illegal to sleep rough. But it is illegal to behave ‘anti-socially’. This is a subjective term - interpreted as anything from drunken revelry to simply being in a group. In the first 12-hour operation, which is set to continue for eight months around Westminster and Victoria, police sought out anyone drinking or known to have previously broken the law.

Is this fair? Would so many A10s have ended up homeless if the barriers to work and support weren't so high? Should Britain have introduced a more definitive policy on EU immigration from the off, rather than panicking post-recession? Britain cannot afford to support everyone who needs a chance in life, but as this policy looks set to expand across Britain, The Pavement will continue to monitor its effectiveness.

By Rebecca Wearn, Pavement reporter

The Pavement is a magazine written by a team of journalist volunteers about, and for, the homeless. The magazine covers everything, from obituaries of long term rough sleepers, to the small print changes in policy from the corridors of power. Anything that is of interest and importance to the hundreds of people on the streets of this city. This has become increasingly important in recent years, given the Mayor's plans to eradicate rough sleeping by 2012.

Last Updated 11 June 2010