In 2016 the Home Office introduced its policy that rough sleepers from the EU and EEA are to be deported, as it claims it’s an abuse of the freedom of movement rights of EU nationals. Following this, two operations were launched in the UK to remove rough sleepers regardless of their residency rights and whether or not they were working.
However, this policy has now been ruled as unlawful by the European high court thanks to legal cases brought forward by Polish and Latvian migrants. The court has also confirmed that the policy was discriminatory, and against both EU law and the residency rights of EEA nationals. The European commission added that all European citizens had a right to live in other EU countries “irrespective of whether they are homeless or not”.
The Public Interest Law Unit welcomed the judgment, saying in a statement that “We are delighted that the court has been willing to protect the rights of a vulnerable group of workers who have been stigmatised both by the authorities and by sections of the media. Experience shows that if we stand by and allow a marginalised group to be victimised others can expect the same treatment later. Homelessness cannot humanely be dealt with by detaining or forcibly removing homeless people. This practice has been found unlawful and must immediately cease.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed by today’s judgment. However, we respect the court’s findings and will not be appealing. We will consider carefully what steps are necessary to ensure we reflect the judgment in future enforcement.”
The initial legal challenge came from Public Interest Law Unit (Pilu) and North East London Migrant Action (Nelma), who provided evidence alongside European rights charity The Aire Centre. It’s believed that hundreds of individuals, including Gunars Gureckis from Latvia, and Mariusz Perliński and Mariusz Cielecki from Poland who all faced deportation for sleeping rough in the UK, may be entitled to compensation for being unlawfully detained under this policy. EEA nationals who have been removed from the UK with a 12 month re-entry ban will also be entitled to have the ban removed.
A Nelma spokesman said “In reality, many homeless people targeted by the Home Office have fallen on hard times and are working but unable to afford accommodation. The numbers of European nationals sleeping rough have been steadily increasing since 2010. But rather than making substantial or systematic attempts to provide solutions to homelessness through accommodation and employment support, local and national authorities have opted to add enforcement measures to austerity policies. We hope this decision will put an end to a social policy which used imprisonment and deportation as solutions to eradicate homelessness.”
Zubier Yazdani of Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors, who represented the Aire centre, said “The court has upheld the well-established definition of an abuse of rights under EU law and sent a strong message to the Home Office that its removal of rough-sleeping EU citizens is totally unlawful and discriminatory. This decision comes as a significant defeat for the Home Office in their desire to create a ‘hostile environment’ for foreign nationals.”
Matthew Evans, the Aire Centre director, added that “The court has made clear that rough sleeping cannot amount to an abuse or ‘misuse’ of free movement rights under EU or UK law … the ruling also serves as a reminder that the Home Office remains subject to the rule of laws.”
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