EU rough sleepers set to win damages from British government | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 13.05.2018
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EU rough sleepers set to win damages from British government

The UK government is facing large claims from EU rough sleepers who were unlawfully detained and deported, according to a BBC report. A lawyer told DW those affected by the former policy had paid a high personal price.

EU nationals who were taken into custody and sometimes deported for rough sleeping under a now abandoned Home Office policy are winning claims against the UK government amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds (euros, dollars), British broadcaster BBC reported on Sunday.

Some 700 EU nationals who were sleeping on the streets were removed from the country in the year to May 2017, according to figures obtained by the broadcaster, with law firms saying that at least 45 clients had made claims for damages.

The BBC report said rough sleepers were targeted even if they were employed or had permanent resident status in the UK.

Read more: Streets of London hit by rise in homeless sleeping rough

Unlawful policy

The Home Office has dropped its policy targeting European rough sleepers since a high court ruling in December found it to be unlawful. The policy, introduced under now-Prime Minister Theresa May when she was home secretary, operated on the premise that rough sleeping was an abuse of EU rights to free movement.

A Home Office spokesperson told the BBC that the compensation claims would be considered on a "case-by-case basis."

The report comes as the Home Office continues to deal with fallout from the so-called Windrush scandal over Caribbean residents who had come to Britain after World War Two and were wrongly treated as illegal immigrants.

Read more: Windrush scandal puts UK immigration policy on the spot 

Theresa May (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Rain)

May vowed to create "a really hostile environment for illegal migration"

'Hostile environment'

Leonie Hirst, a UK lawyer specializing in unlawful detention cases, told DW that the detentions and deportations had occurred under May's policy of creating a "hostile environment" for immigrants living illegally in the United Kingdom.

But she said that policy had backfired in this case, with the Home Office now forced to pay out large amounts in damages to those who had been unfairly kept in custody or removed from the country. The claims included not only damages, but also compensation for loss of work while people were in custody or banned from employment during legal proceedings, she said.

As a result, individual claims could easily run into the tens of thousands of pounds, Hirst told DW on Sunday.

Read more: UN: Racism has risen since Brexit vote 

Homeless man in Bournemouth (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

The number of homeless people in England has doubled in the past five years

'Stressful uncertainty'

Those who had been detained and/or deported to their home countries would have to come forward themselves to make a claim, as the Home Office was unlikely to have records or to divulge any information it did have, Hirst said.

Most of those affected came from eastern European countries, she said, with Romanians and Lithuanians among the most frequent cases.

The barrister stressed that quite apart from the loss of public money caused by the Home Office practice, the people involved and those close to them often suffered from long periods of "stressful uncertainty."

British media reported in March that one of the leading UK homelessness charities, St Mungo's, had admitted working with Home Office patrols during their searches for people sleeping in the streets who were deemed to be illegally residing in the UK.

Read more: Homeless in Germany's financial hub ordered to pay fines for sleeping rough

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