European citizens who have applied for settled status are being detained and threatened with deportation, in developments that appear to break the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
According to the Observer, the Home Office has handed removal instructions to EU nationals even though they could prove they’ve applied for settled status.
Ministers have promised that anyone who applied by the 30 June deadline would have their rights protected while their case was heard.
The failure to abide by that agreement has sparked accusations of “administrative incompetence” on the behalf of Home Office officials – and “wilful” attempts to deport as many EU nationals as possible.
A letter from legal charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (Bid) has threatened to make an official complaint to the European Commission if the Home Office does not adequately respond.
‘I’m supposed to have rights’
One EU national who was detained and threatened with deportation was saved by a judge, who ruled they could not be removed because they had made a settled status application.
Speaking shortly after being released, the EU national, who requested anonymity, told the Observer: “They’re trying to play with mine and my family’s lives and it’s not fair. I’m supposed to have rights.”
Pierre Makhlouf, legal director of Bid, said: “It seems that the Home Office has pre-decided the fate of certain EU nationals, perhaps believing that they are easy to remove. But in its drive to deport more people, it is side-stepping legal requirements and procedures.
“Whether this is due to administrative or wilful neglect may be unclear, but by ignoring the legal steps that EU nationals have undertaken to assert their rights, the UK is in breach of the its duties under the withdrawal agreement.”
Almost 6,000 European nationals living in the UK have not had their claim for settled status resolved within a year.
Immigration minister Kevin Foster said more than six million applications have been made by European citizens who wish to remain in the UK post-Brexit, and there are “just under 6,000” cases that “have been outstanding for over a year”.
He said the “backlog in the courts” caused by the coronavirus pandemic was part of the reason for the problem because if someone has charges pending, a final decision on whether they can stay cannot be made until the criminal case has been resolved.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is “utterly heartbroken” that EU citizens have been required to apply to remain in the country legally.
By the time the EU settled status scheme closed for applications at the end of June, more than six million people had sought permission to remain in the UK.