Homeless migrants still sleeping rough despite PM’s pledge, say charities | Society

Destitute migrants in the UK are continuing to sleep on the streets despite a promise from Boris Johnson that all of them would be given shelter during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month Johnson pledged to provide all necessary accommodation and support for destitute migrants, including those with no recourse to public funds.

But a range of organisations including Crisis, Public Interest Law Centre, Migrants Rights Network and Project 17 have said this promise has not been kept.

They say many destitute migrants continue to sleep on the streets either because councils have turned them away when they try to access emergency support or because, in the absence of clear government guidance, they do not know how to go about getting this support.

Migrant rough sleepers are often more hidden than other rough sleepers because of their fears of being picked up by immigration enforcement teams.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told the Guardian that more than 90% of rough sleepers “known to local authorities” at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis had been made offers of accommodation, although officials did not say how many were in accommodation. Many migrant rough sleepers are not known to local authorities.

Migrant rough sleepers interviewed by the Guardian say they have been turned away when they tried to access the promised support and have had to remain on the streets.

One 58-year-old refused asylum seeker from Nigeria, who has been trying to lodge a fresh asylum claim with the Home Office for the past 16 months, has been sleeping on the streets for several years. He said he often slept around London’s Barbican Centre.

“I am struggling to get food because many charities I usually go to to get food are closed. I am surviving thanks to some of the people who live in the Barbican who are giving me food,” he said.

He added that after Johnson’s announcement last month he approached a London council’s homeless unit and asked for emergency housing. “They turned me away and said I wasn’t eligible,” he said. “They didn’t explain to me why they couldn’t support me.”

Public Interest Law Centre, Project 17 and Migrants Rights Network wrote to local authorities this week warning that migrant rough sleepers were still not receiving assistance.

“The ongoing failure to provide appropriate support to all those who need it regardless of immigration status is not only a moral failure … it also poses a serious public health risk leaving migrants unable to socially distance and, where needed, self-isolate,” the letter said.

A migrant who has been granted leave to remain but is unable to work during the pandemic said he had contacted the jobcentre to try to get support but had got nowhere.

“I am forced to sleep outside at the moment,” he said. “My friend is letting me go to his house just to take showers. I’m very frightened of catching Covid while I’m sleeping outside. I sleep outside in a mask and gloves.”

Matthew Downie, Crisis’s director of policy and external affairs, said: “The government made a commitment to house everyone sleeping rough, regardless of their immigration status, and put the onus on local authorities to make this happen. There has, however, been a lack of guidance on how this should be done. We know that there are people whose lives are still in danger, sleeping on our streets or trapped in crowded hostels and night shelters.”

A spokesperson for the housing ministry said: “Over 90% of rough sleepers known to local authorities at the beginning of this crisis have now been made offers of safe accommodation, ensuring some of the most vulnerable in society are protected from the pandemic.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “In these unsettling times, we will ensure the most vulnerable in our society receive the protection and funding they need and deserve. Even if an asylum claim is failed, we will provide accommodation for those who would otherwise be destitute and who are temporarily unable to leave the UK because of the ongoing travel restrictions.”

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