Bristol City Council has joined over 100 organisations nationally pledging to not cooperate with Home Office plans that could see rough sleepers who are migrants detained and deported.
New rules introduced by home secretary Priti Patel in January revived previous controversial efforts to deploy immigration enforcement powers against rough sleepers by using information collected by local authorities and homelessness charities.
In July, the Guardian reported that 10 local councils had signed up to the plans. The policy is framed as a measure of last resort for preventing anti-social behaviour and supporting the rough sleepers to return to their countries of origin. However, the plans are now facing widespread resistance from many of the organisations charged with delivering it who say the approach will not address homelessness and will drive issues such as modern day slavery further underground.
Homeless Link, the England-wide membership charity for homlessness organisations, has called on relevant organisations to sign a pledge committing to not proactively participate in any activities that may lead to immigration enforcement against a homeless or rough sleeping person without the individual’s consent.
In 2017, the Cable revealed that council teams had cooperated and received funding for work with immigration enforcement, including making referrals that are understood to have led to detention and deportation of migrants from Bristol. This practice is believed to have not been sanctioned by the council’s political leadership and has now stopped.
The council has committed to the renewed pledge as has St Mungo’s, a leading homelessness charity that was criticised for previous involvement in similar Home Office plans.
Councillor Tom Renhard, the recently-appointed cabinet lead for housing, introduced a motion at full council to secure Bristol City Council’s backing for the pledge. In a public statement, Renhard said: “To continue our push to end rough sleeping, those experiencing homelessness must be able to approach services provided by the council and its partners with confidence that they will be supported and not deported. We fear these immigration rules would have the opposite impact.
“Those facing homelessness could be dissuaded from accessing those services for fear that their details will be passed to immigration authorities, leading to an increase in rough sleeping.”
Bristol joins the London councils of Lambeth, Southwark, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Lewisham in making the #supportdontdeport pledge.
Rick Henderson, Homeless Link CEO, said: “We fear that, if local authorities and homelessness charities don’t take a clear stand on this issue, fear around deportation could prevent many of society’s most vulnerable people from accessing support. Bristol Council’s commitment has confirmed this won’t be the case in its local authority area.”
The pledge comes as Bristol recently marked 10 years as a City of Sanctuary, a status that commits it to providing safety and support for refugees and asylum seekers.