Migrants, mostly from the European Economic Area (EEA), make up a significant percentage of privately renting tenants in Bristol. Many struggle with high and increasing rents as well as sub-standard living conditions, and due to their often precarious living circumstances may be reluctant to come forward to report problems or seek support, which can also lead to homelessness. Green Councillor Cleo Lake has raised concerns at new funding received by Bristol City Council which she fears could be used to further marginalise vulnerable and homeless migrants, betraying Bristol’s status as a ‘Sanctuary City’.
£180,000 from the Government’s Controlling Migration Fund is going to the City Council to address migration (which includes people coming from the EEA) as well as a further sum of over £300,000, ostensibly to focus on rogue landlords. This will be done through a scheme where migrants are encouraged to report inadequate living conditions – but in doing so may then face deportation.
Through this fund not only will immigrant rough sleepers be supported to ‘accept offers of reconnection’ to their native lands, but the Home Office will also fund random raids of properties based on citizen ‘tip offs’ to deport immigrants under the guise of outlawing rogue landlords. To quote the BCC website:
“The officers will work with partners including Avon and Somerset Police and Immigration Compliance Enforcement (ICE) to identify properties where there are likely to be high levels of exploitation and trafficking. Officers will carry out proactive inspections of these premises, using our powers of entry to gain access to all dwellings.…It is estimated that approximately 1,200 inspections will be undertaken over the two year period, equivalent to approximately 312 streets being covered across the city.”
Cleo Lake, Green party councillor for Cotham, posed a question at Cabinet on August 15th concerning the number of immigrant rough sleepers, requesting a breakdown of:
– Place of origin
– Immigration status and outcome
– How many people were been brought off the street through the City Initiative
Councillor Lake says the follow up answer she eventually received gave her cause for concern:
“EEA rough sleepers seen regularly by Bristol Outreach are ineligible to access supported pathways off the streets. Without realistic potential to find or sustain work e.g. because of substance misuse, many in time will accept an offer of reconnection. Once a client consents, it is more efficient to employ our written protocol with the Home Office to facilitate voluntary administrative removals. This joined-up approach provides the Home Office with valuable intelligence about potential returnees…. funding also provides for a full-time Bristol City Council Streetwise Officer specifically to:
• build a stronger intelligence picture of migrant rough sleeping
• liaise with ICE and Police to target detention of individuals subject to enforced removal
• liaise with Outreach around supportive interventions/voluntary reconnection”
Commenting on the response, Councillor Lake said:
“The data given suggests that the vast majority of rough sleepers are UK citizens. Out of a recorded 295, 148 were recorded as ‘white British’, 8 as ‘Black’ or ‘Black British: African’ and 97 were ‘Origin Unknown’. The information goes on to suggest that there will be a target of “64 reconnections per year (total for enforced/voluntary administrative removals, voluntary reconnections), pro rata for first year.
“Human trafficking and exploitation is extremely concerning and must be confronted, along with rogue landlords which the information suggests go hand in hand with this exploitation. It is only right to target rogue landlords – they are a blight on our community and should be challenged across the board. However homeless people are, by the very nature of their being, extremely vulnerable, and should have our unconditional support.
“Whilst I do not condone illegal migration I am minded to also reflect on the reasons that people risk their lives and often put themselves into severe debt to come to the UK. Whether it’s to seek asylum, opportunity or to join family, Bristol is supposed to be a City of Sanctuary but it seems to me that there is a danger of a lack of separation between vital support and immigration enforcement which could jeopardise that City status. Support for homeless migrants or those living in substandard accommodation cannot come with the threat of deportation or we risk further marginalising some of the most vulnerable people in society. I hope that positives do come out of this but I will be watching closely to see what is really happening.”
NB: Bristol was officially recognised as a City of Sanctuary in 2011 – for more information see https://bristol.cityofsanctuary.org/