EU citizens are being sent to immigration removal centers and detained in airport detention rooms as the hostile environment of the UK government falls on them after Brexit, according to activists and travelers interviewed by The Guardian.
Europeans with job interviews are among those who are denied entry and locked up. They have spoken of having been subjected to the traumatic and humiliating experience of expulsion, despite Interior Ministry rules that explicitly allow those without a visa to attend interviews.
Confusion over whether EU citizens can explore the UK job market and then go home with an offer to apply for a work visa has added to the growing number of arrests.
In other cases, visitors are clearly violating the rules that, for example, now prohibit EU citizens from engaging in unpaid internships.
At least a dozen European citizens, mostly young women, were detained and expelled at Gatwick airport alone for 48 hours last week, two Spanish detainees told The Guardian.
Some were sent a two-hour drive to Yarl’s Wood Detention Center in Bedford, where a Covid scare meant they were confined to their rooms.
Other countries whose citizens have been detained at a UK airport or detention center include Italy, France, Bulgaria and Greece. It is understood that a Frenchman was detained at Edinburgh airport for 48 hours recently, while the Bulgarian ambassador to the UK confirmed that several of his citizens had been detained in immigration removal centers.
The two Spanish women were arrested in Gatwick on February 2 and 3 after arriving on separate flights from Valencia and Bilbao.
Maria, 25, from Valencia, said that like many of those detained, she thought she was free to explore the job market until at least October, especially since she had lived and worked in the UK before.
Maria said that when Border Force officers in Gatwick said they would evict her, she offered to pay for a flight home the same day. Instead, she was sent to Yarl’s Wood, where she spent three anxious days. “I’m still in shock,” he said.
When The Guardian first spoke to Maria on Friday, she was at Yarl’s Wood and was afraid she had been exposed to Covid. Later that day, she was released and ordered to stay in quarantine at her sister’s home in Bexleyheath, near London, until February 17. Border Force officers kept his passport.
“A lot of time is being wasted,” he said. “The worst part was that no one at Yarl’s Wood could tell me what was going to happen. My freedom had been taken away and I couldn’t get legal advice. “
Eugenia, a 24-year-old woman from the Basque region of northern Spain, arrived in Gatwick on Sunday February 2 on a flight from Bilbao. She planned to search for a job offer, go home to apply for a visa, and then return to live with her Spanish boyfriend, an NHS worker who has been in the UK for four years. “I had a return ticket and I had filled out an online travel form where I explained all of that,” he said.
At Gatwick, Eugenia’s mobile phone was taken from her and she was locked in a waiting room for 24 hours, sleeping on a folding bed with half a dozen other people. Then they put her on a flight to Barcelona along with another Spanish woman who had arrived for a job interview.
Among them, Maria and Eugenia (who asked that their real names not be used) said they met a dozen European citizens detained for similar reasons, representing half of the people in Gatwick detention rooms. Among them were two Spaniards with job interviews, a French with an internship, and a Czech woman who had flown in from Mexico and was being sent back there.
“The Czech girl was desperate,” explained Eugenia, who spent part of her 24 hours locked in tears. “Like me, he knew we couldn’t start work right away, but he understood that he could look for work and come back to the UK later after getting a visa. When she offered to pay for the flight back to Prague, they said no, they were going to expel her to Mexico. “
Other travelers with Italian, Portuguese and Eastern European passports were also expelled.
Luke Piper, a former immigration lawyer who now works for the campaign group The3Million that monitors the post-Brexit treatment of EU citizens in the UK, said the rules were confusing and accused the Border Force of being too much. aggressive “There is absolutely no need to send someone to Yarl’s Wood if they can stay with the family until expulsion,” he said.
Eugenia said she was told that her airline, Vueling, was to blame. “We had all read the website and completed the forms. Then they tell you that everything is the airline’s fault, that they shouldn’t have let us go up ”.
Vueling denied that the airlines were intended to screen EU travelers. “It is the destination country officials who set and enforce entry requirements,” said spokeswoman Tania Galesi.
Eugenia said that cabin crew on their return flight had seen several similar cases recently. The border police who met with them in Barcelona confirmed it. “They didn’t understand why it was happening. British citizens who enter Spain are not treated that way ”.
Eugenia says the experience was so traumatic that she stopped trying to live with her boyfriend. “I’m not going back,” he said. “I don’t want to go through that again. The idea of moving to Britain horrifies me. “
The Interior Ministry stated that the new rules were clear and easily accessible online. “We require evidence of a person’s right to live and work in the UK,” said a spokeswoman. However, the council of the Interior Ministry explicitly states that visitors without work visas can “attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews” and “negotiate and sign agreements and contracts”.
Lawyer Araniya Kogulathas, from the NGO Bail for Immigration Detainees, said EU citizens are now experiencing Britain’s “hostile environment” for immigration.
“The Home Office must explain why exploring the labor market or attending an interview justifies EEA citizens entering the border when immigration rules specifically allow visitors (among other things) to attend meetings, conferences and interviews “, He said. “He seems to be detaining people despite not being clear about his own position. This is yet another example of the normalization of immigration detention in the UK and the Home Office’s disdain for the right to liberty. “
The detainees complained that they were not informed of their right to seek legal aid. Maria only learned of the Yarl’s Wood Covid scare from her sister, who was prevented from visiting because of it. The Interior Ministry denied that there had been an “outbreak”.
Spanish officials said they were monitoring the situation and a spokesman for the European Commission said it was concerned about “the conditions and length of the detention” adding that only a “small number of EU citizens” appeared to have been affected until now.
The Bulgarian ambassador to the UK, Marin Raykov, confirmed that his consulate had dealt with “several cases, when a return flight was not available within 24 hours of the arrival time… several Bulgarian citizens were detained in a center for the expulsion of immigrants ”.
He said that citizens should have the opportunity to communicate with the embassy. “The embassy expects to be notified immediately by the Ministry of the Interior / Border Force about the temporary detention … so that consular officials can give them the necessary advice, inform their relatives in Bulgaria (if necessary) and help organize his quick return to Bulgaria. “
The Home Office has not released data on border arrests since Brexit took effect in January and it is unclear how many of those detained have been able, or willing, to contact their consulates.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism