Immigrants attacked by Belfast racist gangs 'denied state support'

Foreign nationals forced to flee their homes in the wake of racist attacks in the North have been left without a roof over their heads after being denied access to state support, a new report claimed today.

Migrant workers who have fallen victim to domestic abuse have also been unable to access temporary government accommodation due to restrictive immigration laws, the investigation by the NI Human Rights Commission found.

While UK nationals and citizens from certain EU countries qualify automatically for homeless assistance from the NI Housing Executive, workers from other parts of Europe and the rest of the world are being frozen out of the support system due to stipulations on their work visas, the commission’s ’No Home from Home’ study discovered.

While the state is able to provide emergency lodgings in the immediate aftermath of an incident – such as in the case of the 100 or so Romanians who fled their homes in south Belfast after racist attacks earlier this year - immigrations rules mean some non-UK nationals are not eligible for medium term temporary housing in the days and weeks that follow.

Faced with the option of sleeping on the street, some have had to turn to charities to put them up, the commission said.

Co-author of the report Roisin Devlin said in the course of their investigation they had interviewed a number of individuals who had found themselves in that situation.

“Their experiences included domestic violence, ill-health and racial intimidation,” she said.

“In many instances, they did not have access to the basic means of shelter or subsistence. Often charitable organisations were called upon for help because, under various laws, individuals were not entitled to State support.”

Fellow author Sorcha McKenna said staff within state agencies were often curtailed from providing assistance by the regulations.

“During this investigation we found that immigration legislation severely restricts what each of the agencies can do to assist homeless non-UK nationals,” she said.

“Whilst the investigation found largely good practice among agency staff there is still room for improvement particularly in the area of training and inter agency co-operation. These recommendations are aimed at supporting staff and to ensure that where a person is homeless all options for assistance are explored.”

The report examined the practices of the NIHE, the Social Security Agency and the Health and Social Care Trusts in Belfast, Cookstown and Dungannon.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Professor Monica McWilliams said the state had to make sure no individual was left homeless, regardless of where they came from.

“Overall, the investigation demonstrates how those in extremely vulnerable situations are often excluded from even the most basic levels of homelessness and financial support,” she said.

“We have made a wide range of recommendations; the most pressing of these is that government should ensure that regardless of nationality or immigration status no one is allowed to fall into destitution.”

Stormont Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie acknowledged there were problems with the system and urged the British Home Office to amend immigration rules to ensure that everyone could access support when they were in need.

“This is an issue that we as an Executive need to make representations to the Home Office about,” she said.

“It is not acceptable that there are some who are not eligible for housing and other benefits through no fault of their own.”

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