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Promises that turned so sour for migrants
9:18am Monday 25th July 2011 in Behind the News
"Inside I’m not homeless”.
These are the words of a young Polish man lured to the UK on the promise of work, who ended up living in a rat-infested squat in Bradford.
One of countless Eastern European migrants living rough in the city, he appears in a harrowing film made by Bradford charity Hope Housing highlighting the rising problem of homelessness and destitution here.
The film, called The Not So Promised Land, was shot earlier this year in filthy squats, outbuildings and makeshift shelters in Bradford. It explores the stories of migrants from the A8 countries – the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia – which have free movement around the EU.
One thing uniting the men in the film is that they came here following offers of work from “a friend”. These “friends” turned out to be criminal gangs who take their passports and official papers.
Under EU law, Eastern and Central Europeans must work continuously for 12 months to achieve the same status as other EU migrants – but without official ID, they can’t register to work or even access hostels.
In the film, a softly-spoken middle-aged man from Poland, married with three children, says he lost his job when the company he worked for closed. After someone encouraged him to buy a ticket, he came to England seeking work.
“I didn’t know anything here but it was so tough in Poland,” he says, leading you to wonder just how harsh things have to be for someone to leave their family and take their chances in a strange country.
Once here, he was paid £60 a week for intensive labour to ‘buy back’ his passport and ended up sleeping in an old factory with barely any roof. “It was full of rats and pigeons, and was as cold inside as it was outside,” he says.
Another man takes the camera around a filthy inner city squat he lived in. Broken sticks of furniture are barely visible beneath piles of rubbish and dead rats. The bitterly cold winter sky is visible through missing slates on the roof.
“This is where I slept,” says the man, pointing to half a ripped sofa. The other half was occupied by someone else. He talks of men with baseball bats threatening occupants. “It didn’t feel safe here,” he adds.
When he first arrived, the “friend” who brought him here demanded “a lot of money” to share a house with ten other EU migrants. Faced with demands for money they don’t have, it’s not surprising so many end up in squats and disused mills.
Hope Housing helps migrants access housing and employment. As part of a year-long pilot, the charity is accommodating people on a three-month rota in a Bradford property. It also provides emergency accommodation in volunteers’ homes.
Project co-ordinator Adam Clark hopes The Not So Promised Land, funded by a grant from the Anchor Foundation with translation assistance from Horton Housing Association, will become an educational resource, tackling myths about EU migrants.
He says destitute migrants run the risk of becoming the “forgotten underclass” of our society unless the cycle of homelessness can be broken by housing and other service providers, Bradford Council, businesses and volunteers working together.
“Last year we worked with 70 migrants from eight Eastern and Central European countries – a third of the people we work with”, says Adam. “We hear horrific stories on a regular basis, and wanted to document some of these. We went to five or six squats, which were all appalling. The smell was disgusting. We had to sneak in, we didn’t feel safe there.”
He adds: “I worked in Bosnia with street children living on rubbish tips, and those conditions were better than how these men are living here.”
Adam says for many migrants, going home isn’t an option. “Some were already destitute and homeless before they came here. They have nothing to go back to,” he says. “People tell us they can get a hot meal in Bradford, but in rural Poland they can’t get anything.
“Some come to make money for their families and can’t return until they can support them.”
Last year the Telegraph & Argus reported that there could be hundreds of ‘invisible’ Eastern European migrants sleeping rough in Bradford.
Hope Housing is working with other agencies towards changing housing policy in the district.
The charity is also working on business ideas and is keen to hear from businesses which can offer work to migrants.
- For more about Hope Housing, ring (01274) 900764, e-mail contact@hopehousing.
org.uk, or visit hopehousing.org.uk.