Despite stating that it would not evict asylum seekers in areas under local lockdown, the Home Office has begun to do just that.
Law Centres, along with other charities and lawyers, have warned that conducting evictions within such areas not only puts the lives of the people turned out risk, but also the lives of other local residents, at a time of increased risk of Covid-19 infection.
This is especially concerning in the case of Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals, who already face a greater risk to their health from Covid-19. It is no surprise then that those facing eviction have been described by Renae Mann, director of NACCOM, as being “incredibly anxious and afraid”.
In Manchester, where coronavirus rates have been rising and which is subject to local lockdown restrictions, ministers have been threatened with legal action after three appeals against clients’ eviction notices have been submitted by Greater Manchester Law Centre. In a letter to the Home Office, the Law Centre argued that the decision to conduct these evictions is unlawful as it stands in opposition to the government’s own guidance, and poses a significant risk to both evictees and the wider community. It may also mean a breach of human rights.
Laura Gibbons, a solicitor at Greater Manchester Law Centre, said:
“When you become homeless you move, you shelter in public places or, if you are lucky you travel from sofa to sofa staying a few days at a time. You can’t be tracked and traced. You can’t keep yourself or others safe from the virus. The risks are obvious and affect us all.”
In one case, a client was ordered to leave the property that he shares with his partner and their baby after his asylum claim had been rejected. The man, who arrived in the UK from Togo in 2013 after fleeing political persecution, said:
“It’s a big shock for this to happen during this pandemic, I don’t know where I’ll go. I’m so stressed – I can’t eat properly… I can’t even stay with friends now because of the rules. I don’t know what to do.”
“It’s not possible for me to go back to my home country. My life is at risk if I go back. They will kill me if I go back. I’d prefer to die here than go back home.”
Manchester is not the only city that has seen such cases. Eviction notices have also been issued in Yorkshire, the West Midlands and Liverpool. All of which are subject to local restrictions due to outbreaks of coronavirus. Siobhan Taylor-Ward, of Merseyside Law Centre, has described the situation as “chaos”.
The Home Office’s decision may place many individuals in an impossible position where they are forced to choose between being deported back to the country that they fled, or becoming homeless in the UK during a global pandemic with very little to support them.