Detained for sleeping rough

Increased detention and deportation of EU citizens from the UK has been in the news for some time, especially in the context of debates surrounding Brexit.  NELMA has been working with EU citizens who have been detained while sleeping rough.   

North East London Migrant Action (NELMA) and The Public Interest Law Unit at Lambeth Law Centre have been granted permission for a judicial review of the Home Office’s policy of detaining and deporting homeless EU citizens—just for sleeping rough.

From 9am-12 noon on Tuesday November 21st—the first day of the judicial review hearing—NELMA and other groups opposed to the policy will be holding a demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. The aim of the demonstration is to show the government—and the judge—the extent of public opposition to this most inhumane of ‘hostile environment’ policies.

Over the past year NELMA has been interviewing EU citizens affected by the policy. Here we present Mihal and Teodora’s story.

Mihal and Teodora*

We’re from Bulgaria, but before we came to the UK we lived in Greece for a long time. We did seasonal work in the fields, mostly picking olives. For four months of the year we could earn well—€30 a day—but the rest of the year was hard.

We came to the UK because we had heard it was the country with the most work. We thought it would be good here, and at first it was. Mihal got a job as a handyman. He was earning decent money. Then we found a place to live in Ealing.

Mihal doesn’t speak much English, so he worked with a friend. When his friend left, it became much more difficult for him to get jobs. The house in Ealing also turned out badly. The guy we were living with was drinking heavily and was impossible to live with. So we left.

We slept rough outside Victoria station for three nights because we had nowhere else to go. During the day we looked for work and for a place, and at night we slept out. We found a place to live in the first couple of days—we were just waiting for two people to move out.

But then immigration came. It was about one in the morning. They came to our sleeping site—there were lots of us sleeping there, mainly Romanians. We were sleeping on cardboard, and on top of us we had the blankets from our house in Ealing.

There were about five of them, maybe more. They were polite but they didn’t explain anything. They took our details and gave us papers saying we had to report to Becket House. That was all. We weren’t upset or worried at first. We had all our papers in order, so we would be fine.

But when we went to sign—this was three days later—they were rude to us. They told us we had been served papers because we were sleeping on the streets. We asked for an interpreter but didn’t get one. One immigration officer said: ‘Shut up! Fuck you! Go back to Bulgaria.’ We signed something else but I don’t know what it was. Then they took our passports away and detained us.

They put us in Yarl’s Wood. They took Teodora’s medication away and kept it at reception. She’s not well. She can’t do anything without it. We were in there for three months and fifteen days. It was time of fear and stress. Teodora was crying. Her pulse was fast. She couldn’t breathe. She was always in the hospital wing.

It felt like a prison. Knock on wood, we’ll never go back. We saw lots of people try to kill themselves. It happened every day. They took away our mobile phones. I would die before going back. I’m not a criminal.

Our solicitor got us out. We don’t know how or why. We could have been there forever. Whoever works in immigration needs to know it’s not a good job. They’re like criminals. I want the big boss to know what happened to us.

We want to leave the UK. We want to go back to our family. If they had just deported us straightaway, it would have been OK. But they kept us there for three months. And then they kept our passports after we got out. So we can’t get an address, or a National Insurance number, or anything. Teodora has been offered a good job as a cleaner in a hotel. But she can’t do it.

Lots of people have helped us. We wouldn’t have survived without them. Now we’re waiting for our day in court.

*Not their real names.

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