Home Office attempts to remove rough sleeping Europeans from the UK must be enforced humanely, Scottish Government warns
Change in Home Office policy means someone from the European Economic Area found rough sleeping would, under certain circumstances, be considered to be in breach of their treaty rights so would be liable to be arrested and removed from the UK
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The Scottish Government has warned that Home Office attempts to arrest Europeans rough sleeping in Scotland and remove them from the UK must be enforced humanely, while respecting the rights and dignity of migrants.
A change in Home Office policy, introduced in February, means someone from the European Economic Area found rough sleeping would, under certain circumstances, be considered to be in breach of their treaty rights so would be liable to be arrested and removed from the UK.
Although immigration policy is reserved to the UK Government, control over housing and homelessness policy lies with the Scottish Government.
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But while the Home Office said it would work with local authorities and homelessness agencies in enacting the new policy, Freedom of Information requests reveal that Edinburgh City Council has not been issued with direct guidance on how they would be implemented.
Meanwhile homelessness charities have warned that they will not hand over information to enforcement authorities, except in circumstances where they are legally required to do so.
Responding to an investigation by Holyrood, revealing that Immigration Compliance and Enforcement teams have begun targeting EEA nationals rough sleeping in Edinburgh for arrest, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is vital that any enforcement measures taken are humane and respect the rights and dignity of migrants, particularly those who may be vulnerable or at risk.
“Everyone should have access to a warm and safe place to stay. We are proud that Scotland’s legislation and preventative approach means everyone has the right to temporary accommodation. We are working with partners to address more complex needs than just a roof over someone’s head.”
Edinburgh homelessness charity Streetwork told Holyrood that although it will make those effected aware of the Home Office’s offer of voluntary assisted return to their country of origin, it is not bound to share information with the Home Office which could see EEA nationals arrested and removed.
A Home Office spokesperson told Holyrood: “It is unacceptable for anyone to come to the UK with the intention of sleeping rough or to beg on the streets to support themselves.
“Those who are encountered rough sleeping may be misusing their free movement rights. We will take action, including removal from the UK where appropriate, against EEA nationals who refuse to find alternative accommodation.
“We work closely with local councils and homelessness outreach services to ensure that those who are vulnerable receive the care they need.”
Adam Lang, Head of Communications and Policy at Shelter Scotland, warned the new guidance may be misinterpreted or applied incorrectly to remove people unlawfully.
He told Holyrood: “This change to UK Government guidance on administrative removal of EEA nationals makes an already complex legal situation even harder to understand for very vulnerable people who may not know their rights. We are concerned this new guidance may be misinterpreted or applied incorrectly to remove people unlawfully. We would encourage anyone facing action under the new rules or those who know them to seek housing advice urgently.
“All rough sleepers are people being failed by the housing safety net which should catch them when they face the tragedy of homelessness. It is a visible sign of how we as a society are failing to provide the basic human right of a home for everyone.”
Home Office guidance on EEA administrative removal, which was updated the month before the UK triggered Article 50, states that “rough sleeping may be a misuse of a right to reside, therefore EEA nationals or their family members encountered sleeping rough may be subject to administrative removal under regulation 23(6)(c) where it is appropriate to do so”.
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