UK in detention about-face over Europeans without visas

Dozens of EU travellers to the UK unaware of post-Brexit rules were detained for days

EU travellers into the UK have been detained for days for breaking work visa rules. Reuters
EU travellers into the UK have been detained for days for breaking work visa rules. Reuters

The UK has ordered border officials to stop sending EU citizens without work visas to prison-like detention centres after an outcry from European governments.

The decision comes after dozens of people from the 27 EU member nations were held in immigration centres because they did not have the right visas, campaigners said.

Some were held for days without their phones and sometimes without visiting rights because of Covid-19 outbreaks.

The UK Home Office changed its policy after complaints from EU nations that their citizens were being held because of administrative errors.

Many of those detained were young people who failed to understand changes in the rules after Brexit.

The change in the guidance came just before the UK lifted the ban on non-essential overseas travel because of Covid-19.

“While international travel is disrupted due to the pandemic, we have updated our guidance to clarify that overseas nationals, including EU citizens, who have been refused entry to the UK and are awaiting removal should be granted immigration bail, where appropriate," the British Home Office said.

“Now freedom of movement has ended, people from across the EU can continue to visit the UK, but those coming to work or study must meet our entry requirements and we urge them to check before travelling.”

The rights of EU citizens to work visa-free in Britain ended on January 1, 2021, and those held were identified by officials as seeking work without having a visa.

Many of those barred entry are kept at Heathrow and Gatwick airports and sent on return flights within hours.

But the pandemic has affected the number of flights leaving the UK and some were put into vans and taken to immigration centres.

Some were held there for nearly a week before being flown out of the country.

The centres include Colnbrook, near Heathrow airport, which was described by inspectors in 2019 as “too prison-like”.

Inspectors reported that cases of inmates harming themselves were on the rise, detainees spent too long locked in cells and some were unnecessarily kept in handcuffs.

A couple with Brazilian-Italian nationality were separated and spent about five days in detention before they were returned to Milan, said the campaign group the3million, which represents EU citizens in the UK.

“There were periods of detention in isolation and where they were both denied access to medication," said Luke Piper, the group's head of policy.

“It’s all part of this ongoing problem with the Home Office returns. They just go for the most heavy-handed, over-the-top way of controlling entry clearance.

“People don’t see border control as a gateway to being criminalised.”

About 25,000 people are detained every year in the UK on immigration grounds, with more than half of those held for less than seven days.

As Covid restrictions are loosened and international travel resumes this summer, campaigners believe the number of detainees could increase sharply.

EU citizens have made 5.4 million applications to a post-Brexit settled scheme system, which is due to close next month.

It allows EU nationals who have settled in the UK for five years to live and work indefinitely, free of immigration control.

The applications far exceed the level the government expected and suggest that almost one in five people in London is an EU citizen.

About 300,000 of the cases are awaiting rulings.

Updated: May 18, 2021 03:59 AM

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