Homeless and deported

by | Apr 18, 2018 | Global inequalities, Racism/Xenphobia | 0 comments

by Lara Dixon

Immigration is unarguably a nationwide hot topic. Homelessness is a hugely significant issue for Manchester. So, when I read about the two combined in the news recently, my attention was grabbed. Earlier this week, The Guardian and The Sun reported that homelessness charity St Mungo had cooperated with Home Office patrols to locate homeless illegal immigrants. The Charity’s director Petra Salva explained Home Office enforcement teams “go up to individuals sleeping in sleeping bags and interview them. Sometimes they end up arresting them”. The report raises awareness of myriad social issues including morality, poverty, immigration and the UK housing market. Inspired by the article, I decided to investigate further the issues of homeless immigrants and access to social housing.

Home Office enforcers interview rough sleepers

I began by searching for news articles related to ‘homeless’ and ‘migrant’. I discovered there had been controversy over a Home Office decision in February 2016 that stated rough sleeping could be considered an abuse of EU freedom of movement rights and thus the government had grounds to deport such people. Deportation of EU nationals is estimated to have increased from 973 in 2010 to 4,754 in 2016 (Sky news, 2017). For migrants who remain, access to social housing has steadily grown more complicated and the post-Brexit hostility towards migrants has caused groups to fear seeking help. Furthermore, many were outraged by the news that local authorities had been working with the home office in operations across London. The Guardian (2017) reports that ‘joint visits to eight London boroughs led to 133 rough sleepers being detained in immigration removal centres.’ On 14th December the high court ruled that the policy of detaining and deporting homeless EU nationals is unlawful and discriminative.

So why are immigrants vulnerable? Pleace (2011) undertook one of the few detailed investigations into immigrants sleeping rough, an issue brought up at The European Conference on Immigration and Homelessness hosted by FEANTSA and BAG 2004. Although data is lacking, evidence suggests an over-representation of some migrant groups, A-10 citizens, failed asylum seekers, undocumented migrants and refugees among homeless people (Daly, 1996). This also applies to non-recent immigrants, especially Roma people in the EU-15 (Harrison et al., 2005) and Black British citizens in the UK (Anderson, 2002). The former may be linked to the racialised and negative discourse ‘darkening’ Roma people in the media (Fox, Morosanu, Szilassy, 2012).

UK evidence suggests that the majority of A-10 economic migrants secure paid work and do not claim welfare or become homeless (Pollard et al., 2008). However, low-threshold homelessness services in the capital have reported an increase in helping migrants from Eastern Europe. These people are usually uninformed and have ‘no social support, no knowledge of local labour markets, culture or language’ and/or ‘are suffering from mental illness and substance abuse’ (Garapitch, 2008). Despite exaggerated claims in the media that immigrants cause strain on social services, undocumented and legal immigrants can be severely limited from resources. Pleace (2011: 152) concludes that only a minority of economic migrants from A-10 countries becomes homeless and those who do often share characteristics with native homeless people, such as ‘support needs and negative life experiences’.

Pleace: “one more immigrant household in social housing is quite likely to be one less native household”

Non-recent migrants are also at risk of homelessness. The extent to which migrants can ‘integrate’ into society and become ‘attuned’ with its ‘language and cultural norms’ can result in social and economic exclusion, structural disadvantages and institutional racism (Pleace, 2011: 153). The Guardian (2017) reports that some migrant’s on zero hour contracts have no other choice than to sleep rough, the shortages in social houses and increasing living costs can be extremely damaging. Restrictions on social housing for non-EU migrants make them particularly vulnerable. Housing has become particularly significant in the immigrant debate. Pleace (2011: 2-3) explains that ‘one more immigrant household in social housing is quite likely to be one less native household’ and ‘this will be visible in a way that the receipt of welfare benefits is not’. The media and politicians ignite the issue, in December 2012 Theresa May claimed that more than a third of all new housing demand in Britain was caused by immigration.

Homelessness in the UK remains an uncomfortable and often overlooked issue: an external problem. Hostility towards homeless immigrants is worsened by the racialised and negative coverage they often receive in UK press. Brexit helped expose the UK’s anxieties towards mass immigration as a threat to ‘national identity, to culture and to the well-being and economic prosperity’ of the native population (Philmore and Goodson, 2006). The perceived construction of immigrant as ‘other’ adds to hostility against those seeking government funding and contributes to a negative response to those homeless.

Offline references

Anderson, I. (2002) Migration and Homelessness in the UK: Final Report to the European Observatory on Homelessness (Brussels: FEANTSA).
Daly, G. (1996) Migrants and Gate Keepers: The Links between Immigration and Homelessness in Western Europe, Cities 13(1), pp.11–23.
Fox, J.E., Morosanu, L. and Szilasy, E. (2012) ‘The racialization of the new European migration to the UK’, Sociology, 46 (4): 680-95.
Garapitch, M. P. (2008) Between the Local and Transnational – EU Accession States Migrants in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (London: London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham).
Harrison, M., Law, I. and Philips, D. (2005) Migrants, Minorities and Housing: Exclusion, Discrimination and Anti-Discrimination in 15 Member States of the European Union (Vienna: European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia)
Philmore, J. and Goodson, L. (2006) Problem or Opportunity? Asylum Seekers, Refugees, Employment and Social Exclusion in Deprived Urban Areas, Urban Studies 43(10), pp.1715–36.
Pleace, N. (2011) ‘Immigration and Homelessness’ in Homelessness Research in Europe : Festschrift for Bill Edgar and Joe Doherty. ed. / Eoin O’Sullivan. Brussels : FEANTSA.
Pollard, N., Latorre, M. and Sriskandarajah, D. (2008) Floodgates or Turnstiles? Post-EU Enlargement Migration Flows to (and from) the UK (London: IPPR).


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