The Home Office is collecting data at “immigrant surgeries” in safe spaces such as charities and places of worship in order to identify and deport marginalised homeless people.
Attendees to these surgeries are told that they will be able to access financial support and that by attending they could have their status in the UK stabilised. However, certain organisations – including the Salvation Army – have been inviting Home Office officials in London to conduct these sessions with the aim of identifying deporting these vulnerable individuals.
Home Office immigration enforcement units run the meetings and can decide if they believe an attendee is not entitled to UK residency. The attendee will be asked to leave on their own accord if the officials deem them ineligible. However, if they challenge the decision, they are likely to be removed by force.
Experts have criticised the practice as deceitful and unfair as it gives the Home Office access to extremely vulnerable individuals under the guise of support. Email conversations between the Home Office and local authorities in London highlight how the Home Office works to implement the Government’s attempts to address homelessness, but with an immigration focus.
The Rough Sleeping Support Service is an initiative set up in 2018 intending to assist non-UK citizens living on the streets. The infiltration of Home Office officials to assistive surgeries is said to run alongside the initiative.
A Home Office official commented with regard to the sessions in safe community spaces: “The service was not designed to undertake enforcement action, but it may be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
The practice has been condemned by community leaders including the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Speaking last year, a spokesperson for Mr Khan said:
“The mayor has always been very clear that he is opposed to the Home Office policy that denied non-UK nationals sleeping rough access to services, and leaves them vulnerable to being returned home with no support waiting for them.”
The Chief Executive of Refugee & Migrants Forum of Essex and London (Ramfel), James Tullett, denounces the practice of Home Office teams using community spaces to conduct this work. He said:
“Home Office officials who run these advice surgeries are trying to trick migrants and other organisations into thinking they are giving them help and advice when their true purpose is to remove people. They talk about voluntary return but once they have people, if they don’t agree to voluntary return then there’s enforcement action – detention and deportation without any further legal advice.”
An official for the Public Law Interest Centre expressed concerns that the advice surgeries are simply enforcement deportations that seek to fool highly vulnerable individuals, stating: “this scheme will deepen the mistrust that already exists.”
Organisations including The Salvation Army confirmed they provide the Home Office with space to assist individuals with paperwork with attendance being voluntary.