Two well-known homeless charities are accused of being 'complicit' with the deportation of foreign rough sleepers from the UK, Politics.co.uk can reveal.
Leading homelessness charities St Mungo's and Thames Reach worked on a scheme to tackle 'entrenched' rough sleeping in London, which also involved immigration enforcement teams removing people from the country against their will.
Documents released by the Greater London Authority suggest the charities supported the 'administrative removal' of some foreign rough sleepers.
Administrative removals are deportations carried out against people who may have breached the conditions of their stay in the UK. Under government guidance announced this year, just being seen sleeping rough is considered a breach.
Campaigners today hit out at the charities for being 'complicit' with deportations.
"Homeless individuals are sitting ducks for immigration enforcement," Rita Chadha, the chief executive of Ramfel, a refugee and migrant group, said.
"The fact that some homelessness charities can be complicit in such work is to our collective shame.
"People need to start questioning where their donations to some homeless charities are going. Are they really helping individuals or are they subsidising state-sanctioned enforcement?"
Former mayor of London Boris Johnson asked the homeless charities to work on a 'payment by results' basis, in order to help fulfil his promise to eradicate rough sleeping from London's streets.
GLA documents reveal that in 2012, Thames Reach and St Mungo's were commissioned to provide a number of services to around 800 so-called "entrenched" rough sleepers. But the programme, which was called a Social Impact Bond (SIB), also aimed to "reconnect" EU nationals with their home countries.
"Reconnections" are usually described as voluntary help for people who want to return home. But an update on the SIB in 2015, suggests they can also refer to forced removals from the country.
In the update, the GLA told the Investment & Performance Board (IPB) that "the number of reconnections abroad had fallen short of the providers' targets" but that "with ten SIB clients having recently been referred to the Home Office for administrative removal, the number of reconnections in this year may well exceed the providers' in-year target".
The SIB is just one of several GLA projects to tackle rough sleeping in the capital. In the authority's commissioning framework they make it clear that any charity wanting to provide their rough sleeping services would be expected to cooperate with immigration officials to remove EU nationals.
The framework comments on their "notable success" in working with Immigration Compliance Enforcement (ICE) teams, who liaise with "local authorities, service providers and the police" to deal with EU nationals who are neither employed or self-sufficient.
The document goes on to say: "This has involved testing a process of administrative removal for those individuals overstaying or not exercising their treaty rights. The GLA has supported this response and will continue to support similar initiatives in the future."
Charities co-operated with scheme to remove 'entrenched' rough sleepers
Thames Reach's contract to carry out the GLA's 'reconnection' work ended earlier this year. However, in a response to the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee homeless inquiry they confirmed they support the practice of forced removals. They said:
"For different reasons there is a reluctance to take up this voluntary reconnection and for some, inevitably, an administrative removal carried out by the Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (ICE) service becomes necessary."
They also suggested that a solution to reduce the flow of migrants to the UK who end up sleeping rough would be to increase "enforcement by ICE teams" where EU treaty obligations are not met.
Ramfel has raised concerns about the GLA's reliance on charities to assess immigration cases and questioned whether their staff have the necessary skills and experience to provide accurate advice.
"We have seen a number of individuals who have felt pressured to leave the UK or have been told they have no alternative but to return home, when actually there are a variety of options available to them to remain here," Chadha said.
St Mungo's confirmed that they had worked with other agencies to 'reconnect' foreign rough sleepers. The director of the Street Outreach Service at St Mungo's, Petra Salva said:
"St Mungo's does not remove rough sleepers who are not exercising their treaty rights. Our work is with vulnerable people sleeping rough. We support people to move away from the streets, have a place to call home and to rebuild their lives. We consider the person and the best route off the street for them. That can involve working with other agencies, including reconnection within other London boroughs, to other parts of the UK or overseas."
When contacted by Politics.co.uk, Thames Reach said that they were only currently engaged with assisting voluntary reconnections. A spokesperson said:
"We know that rough sleeping is dangerous and can kill. At least 83 verified rough sleepers died last year in London. Where it is needed, we make sure that vulnerable people get the support they need to make a successful return home, and get the help they need when they get there."