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The End of the Line – Migrant homelessness and what to do when there’s nothing left to do

The End of the Line – Migrant homelessness and what to do when there’s nothing left to do

The End of the Line – Migrant homelessness and what to do when there’s nothing left to do

Monday, July 8, 2019

Bethan Lant, Project Lead at Praxis, discusses support for those who are homeless and have exhausted their immigration options.

We recently ran an event on migrant homelessness called “The End of the Line – What to do when there’s nothing left to do”.

Reaction to the event from attendees was quite polarised. Some were happy to see the topic discussed; others were unhappy with the focus on return and reconnection.

To be clear, when an undocumented migrant has run out of immigration options – that is, there is no longer a valid immigration application that can be made – the remaining options are extremely few. A very small number of those migrants might consider return to their country of origin and it is sensible for any organisation to have some knowledge of whether that is possible and how it might work. It is also necessary to understand the difficulties in this area; many of those who end up homeless have mental health issues or face such desperation that weighing up options and assessing the possible risks and benefits of each option becomes difficult. In the 18 years that I have been working with vulnerable migrants only a very few have chosen voluntarily to return home, but for those few it was good to be able to talk them through the process, understand what help might be available when they returned and to give them support to make their decision.

So what are the other options for migrants who have no more immigration case to make but do not want to or cannot return? The only other option is to stay in the UK without documents. While this option can be recognised, as an immigration adviser I cannot advise anyone to do so as I would then be advising them to do something which breaks the law. For the very many clients I have seen who are facing this option I usually say some variation of the following:

- If you chose to stay in the UK without documents you must recognise that you are likely to face tremendous hardship. Your access to services and assistance will be extremely limited and you could be caught and removed by immigration officers at any time.
- Any support that you do get is likely to be one-off emergency support from the charity sector. However, charities can’t usually afford to keep giving support indefinitely with no hope of any change.
- You will be vulnerable to exploitation and harm. You may be exploited by unscrupulous employers who will allow you to work but pay you little, fail to pay you or require you to work in unreasonable or dangerous circumstances. You may be coerced into doing things which are against the law. You may end up in situations where you (or in some cases, your children) are put at risk.
- You may find a solicitor who will take money to make an immigration case for you. If that is the case please be aware that from my knowledge of your circumstances it is highly unlikely that any such case will succeed, but the solicitor will still happily take your money to make the application.
- It is always possible that your circumstances may change or that the law may change which may mean that some kind of immigration case becomes possible. If you ever think that is the case then please seek further advice.

At Praxis, we have a very high demand for our services and in practice that means that once we assess someone as having no further immigration options we are unlikely to continue to provide advice and casework to that person. We may make a one off emergency grant; in winter, we may be able to get someone into a winter night shelter. They may still be able to attend our support groups and events. As a manager it is often my role to say that nothing further can be done. This takes the responsibility off the individual frontline worker, although it is still not easy.

It is always hard working with a client who reaches the end of the line. It should not be seen as a moral judgement on the kind of person that they are that they are unable to get permission to stay - our immigration system is very restrictive and many people who have reasons for wanting to stay here which seem perfectly reasonable are either unable to fit into an accepted category for permission to stay or cannot get the evidence that the Home Office considers necessary. It is also necessary to recognise the gap between reality and rhetoric. While the official (or personal) response may be ‘these people need to go back home’, the fact is relatively low numbers are ever removed and most will stay in the UK for a considerable period of time after their options are exhausted.

Any organisation which wishes to continue to provide support to migrants with no further options needs to have a realistic understanding of what that will mean for the organisation and its employees or volunteers. Some small, particularly faith-based organisations have considered this and made decisions that they will keep on supporting. It is good that those organisations are there and able to do this, but they are limited as to how many people they can support.

So how does an organisation consider what it can do when migrants have reached the end of the line? It may be helpful to go back to the reasons why our organisations exist; if your organisation has, for example, an aim of reducing street homelessness, why is that? Is it for the good of society more broadly or for the good of the individual people who are homeless? What is the way forward when all possible options are bad? Does the old argument about services such as soup runs sustaining homelessness hold up if someone has no other realistic options? Can we advocate for better or more realistic options?

All of these are questions to which I cannot provide answers, but I think that these are discussions which need to take place on an organisational level and thought through so that frontline workers are not left dealing with the impossible.

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