New laws targeting rough sleepers are being routinely used to deport EU citizens, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
In May 2016 the Home Office introduced a new policy stating that rough sleeping by European Economic Area (EEA) nationals was an ‘abuse’ of their right to freedom of movement.
Previously, the Home Office was able to remove EEA nationals for abuses of right such as anti-social behaviour or periods of “economic inactivity”.
Individuals found sleeping rough can now be “subject to administrative removal” from the UK.
The updated guidance means that immigration enforcement teams are now able to remove individuals from the UK purely because they are sleeping rough, which means people who are in employment are now also at risk.
Freedom of Information requests sent to London boroughs by migrant support group North East London Migrant Action (NELMA) revealed that council patrols targeting migrant rough sleepers were conducted, on average, nine times a year.
The patrols were carried out collaboratively by local authorities and Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) teams.
NELMA found that homelessness outreach teams commissioned by local authorities also participate in these patrols.
The data collected also indicates that at least 95 rough sleepers have been removed in London, but the number is likely to be higher, as most boroughs said they did not hold this information.
The group also claimed that identification documents were “routinely confiscated” during patrols, stopping people from exercising their rights under freedom of movement to look for work and find accommodation.
A spokesperson for NELMA said: “Many of those affected have lived in the UK for years, usually working and paying tax.
“Homeless people need to be helped, not criminalised. We’re calling on local authorities and homelessness charities to stop collaborating with ICE and the Home Office and take a rights-based approach to working with some of the most vulnerable people in our society.’
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.