Sanwar Ali: additional reporting and comments
A UK immigration rule that targets foreign rough sleepers could discriminate against ethnic minorities, a report has warned. The Home Office has admitted that the policy, which was recently revived, may be discriminatory toward ethnic minorities, including Asian women who have survived domestic abuse.
There have been numerous scandals involving the Home Office. Many Home Office decisions have resulted in injustice and suffering for migrants. It is therefore not surprising that minority groups do not trust them.
According to an internal document, which outlines the Home Office’s analysis of the policy to deport foreign rough sleepers, the rule could indirectly affect vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities.
The policy has caused widespread outrage ever since it came into force. An eight-page equality impact assessment, seen by Liberty Investigates, concedes that there is potential for the rule to indirectly discriminate against someone based on race, given that some factors that lead to homelessness disproportionately affect people from certain ethnic groups.
The impact assessment states: “The main reason Asian women give for being homeless is because of domestic violence.”
Director of campaign group the Southall Black Sisters, Pragna Patel, said that the document, released under freedom of information laws, exposed a ‘sinister attitude’ towards migrants made homeless because of domestic abuse.
In March, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the government’s domestic abuse bill as part of a series of measures to ensure the safety of women after the killing of Sarah Everard.
However, Pragna Patel, was quick to point out the hypocrisy of the domestic abuse bill amid plans to deport foreign rough sleepers. She said: “In the same breath, they are saying we are going to introduce this measure around rough sleeping, knowing it will affect victims of domestic abuse.”
Disabled people affected
The impact assessment also acknowledges that rough sleepers with a disability ‘may suffer greater disadvantage’ if they are deported to countries with poor access to support services.
Reports indicate that disabilities are prevalent among large sections of the homeless community.
The Home Office’s impact assessment referred to figures published for Scotland, which show that more than half of people in need of help for homelessness were also in need of support for a range of health conditions, including mental health issues, substance dependency and learning disabilities.
However, the assessment did say that the revived UK immigration rule does not ‘unlawfully discriminate.’
Windrush legal document
News of the impact assessment comes after the Home Office was recently forced to sign a legal document with the UK’s equalities watchdog, vowing that the mistakes made that led to the Windrush scandal would not be repeated.
Legal policy director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Chai Patel, said: “The Home Office is still up to its neck in the discrimination caused by the hostile environment.”
“Both the equality and human rights commission and the independent Windrush reviewer are expecting Priti Patel and her department to investigate and stamp out racial and other discrimination caused by its policies, not to make them worse,” Patel added.
Under the controversial UK immigration rule, foreign nationals who become homeless could be refused permission to remain in the UK or have their existing immigration status cancelled. However, local councils and charities have threatened to boycott the rule, introduced last December, describing it as ‘cold and callous’.
Not yet in use
The policy is not yet in force, with UK immigration staff told not to use it until official guidance has been published on how it will be applied.
The impact assessment concluded that any discrimination, whether it’s on the grounds of race, disability or any other protected characteristic, is ‘not direct’ and is therefore, ‘not automatically unlawful’.
The document states: “Use of the power can be justified by the legitimate aim of protecting the public.”
The report went on to claim that the UK immigration system ‘guards against discrimination’, while allowing Home Office officials to consider whether a person’s disability did in fact contribute to them becoming homeless.
However, given the Home Office’s history of poor decision making, campaigners argue that Home Office discretion ‘is not an adequate safeguard for society’s most vulnerable people’.
Chief executive of the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London, James Tullett, said: “The Home Office is widely believed to be institutionally racist. The idea of the Home Office using its discretion feels like a guarantee of discrimination rather than a safeguard.”
No unlawful discrimination
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The equality impact assessment states that this policy does not unlawfully discriminate. Decision-makers are rigorously trained to see where mitigating factors such as disability or race may have played a role in an individual’s situation, taking this into account and offering them support.”
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