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The Home Office has come under fire after it was revealed that sensitive data acquired from several key homeless charities in London has been used to identify and deport EU nationals sleeping rough.
According to a report in the Observer, a chain of emails between Home Office immigration Officials and the Greater London Authority reveals how information that was intended to protect rough sleepers was later used to target them. In 2013, then Home Secretary, Theresa May announced plans to create a “hostile environment” for illegal migrants in Britain. In 2016, Theresa May took this policy one step further and made it a policy to be able to remove European nationals accused of sleeping rough.
This isn’t the first time that charities have been caught out in their dealings with the Home Office. Earlier this year, homelessness charities St Mungo’s and Thames Reach were sharing information with immigration enforcement officials. A report from Corporate Watch revealed concerns about links between homelessness charities and the Home Office which echoed concerns about involving landlords, the NHS and schools with immigration enforcement.
It was revealed in March 2017 that 127 non-UK rough sleepers were deported during a pilot scheme throughout Westminster. It is not known at this stage how many individuals were deported as a result of the latest information sharing between charities and the Home Office.
The information was shared through a system called CHAIN (the Combined Homelessness and Information Network) which collects information such as nationality, mental health and gender of rough sleepers in order to help policy makers to “identify emerging needs”. Home Office immigration officials had full access to the map for 6-months from September 2016. This was only stopped with homelessness charities voiced their concerns about how the information might be used.
The Observer compared the detainment and deportation figures of EU nationals throughout 2016 and noted a 41% increase in the number of EU nationals detained, compared to the months prior to gaining access to the map. Human Rights group Liberty has expressed concern that this type of immigration system will only make it more difficult for the most vulnerable in society to get the help they need. According to the emails between the Home Office and GLA, the Home Office claimed: “We will use the maps in our authorities for deployment and briefings. Neither will be in the public domain but both would be susceptible to production on foot of a FoI request.”
In response to the claims, a Home Office spokesperson said: “No one should come to the UK with the intention of sleeping rough, and those who are encountered doing this may be misusing their free movement rights.”