Joint operations have been ongoing for at least two years.
Photo: Stephen Lilley
At least 17 rough sleepers in Bristol have been detained by Immigration Enforcement due to a working partnership with a council-led team in the year to March 2017.
The new figures follow Bristol Cable revelations that the council have successfully applied for Home Office funding to work with Immigration Enforcement to target homeless people for voluntary or enforced ‘removal’.
The £180,000 ‘Controlling Migration Fund’ money awarded earlier this year specifically targets rough sleepers from European countries, as well as others without legal status to be in the UK.
However, documents show that a working relationship with the Home Office is already active, stretching back to George Ferguson’s administration and into Marvin Rees’s. Council employees on the Streetwise team have been on at least nine operations with Immigration Enforcement officers in the past two years, encountering 40 individuals. (See below for documents). Council employees have also made 11 referrals to Immigration Enforcement in the same period.
Information available for the year between March 2016 and March 2017 shows that at least 17 individuals were detained by Immigration Enforcement after encounters with the Streetwise team.
The Cable understands from correspondence with the council that people have subsequently been removed from the UK, though the council claim to not hold a full breakdown of this information directly.
The council-led Streetwise team was set up in in conjunction with the police over ten years ago ‘to tackle begging, a prolific issue at the time’, according to a presentation by the Streetwise team. Now Streetwise have expanded their approach to ‘tackling street based anti-social behaviour’ to include what is termed ‘persistent rough sleeping’ including working with Immigration Enforcement.
A spokesperson for the council said, “The joint working arrangements with the police and Immigration Enforcement are specifically to tackle anti-social behaviour, and fall within the council’s broader duty to work with partners as per the Crime & Disorder Act 1998.”
While the council is making significant efforts to address homelessness in the city, for example by allocating land for a new temporary accommodation initiative, the close partnership with Immigration Enforcement has raised concerns.
In response to previous Cable coverage about the targeting of migrant rough sleepers, the vice-chair of Bristol City of Sanctuary told Bristol 24/7, “We hope that the council will divorce itself from cooperation with the Immigration Enforcement Agency in the way that it implements the [Controlling Migration Fund] programme”. Next week, Green party councillor Cleo Lake will be raising the issue at a full council meeting.
The relationship between the council and the Home Office is part of the wider immigration enforcement policy adopted by the government known as the ‘hostile environment’. Aimed at making life difficult for those not welcome by the government, the ‘hostile environment’ approach has a wide reach, including placing pressure on the public sector, employers and landlords to report people suspected to be in the UK illegally.
While non-Europeans have long been subject to this approach, the targeting of European nationals due to being homeless and therefore not exercising Freedom of Movement rights has attracted widespread controversy. The policy is now being challenged in the High Court with an initial ruling expected in the coming months, with possible consequences for council’s roll out of the Controlling Migration Fund projects.