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EU citizens arriving in UK border detained, expelled

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Passengers wait in Gatwick Airport's south terminal, December, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

European Union citizens are being detained upon their arrival to the UK, as the government’s “hostile immigration environment” policy falls on them after Brexit.

Europeans with job interviews are among those who are being sent to immigration removal centers or held in airport detention rooms.

They have revealed of being subjected to the traumatic and humiliating experience of expulsion, despite the fact that non-visa holders are allowed to attend interviews under Home Office law.

The growing number of detentions has been exacerbated by confusion about whether EU citizens should explore the UK job market and then return home with an offer in order to apply for a work visa.

The UK has implemented rules barring EU citizens even from taking up unpaid internships, which in turn has intensified the critical situation for the EU citizens in the UK.

Countries whose citizens have been held at a UK airport or detention center include Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria and Greece.

Two female Spanish detainees have revealed that at least a dozen European citizens, who are mostly young women, were detained and expelled at Gatwick airport merely over 48 hours last week.

Marta Lomartire, 24, is an Italian graduate who was supposed to work as an au pair in London, but was sent to the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre, which is described as a “prison” even by Google Maps.

After searching and seizing every personal belonging, including her smartphone, UK border agents asked her several questions, and locked her up “in a small room under surveillance at the airport until 4 a.m.”

“The border agents at Heathrow then told me they were taking me to a room with more facilities but later told me it’s a prison,” Marta said.

Depicting her condition in the Immigration Removal Center, Marta said "because they didn't want me to take pictures or videos: my window had bars, walls barbed wire and I was shocked,” adding that “another young woman from Tuscany told me she had been held there for 5 days.”

As another case, María, 25, from Valencia, reached Gatwick on February 3 and was sent to Yarl’s Wood, where she spent three anxious days.

She was scared that she had been exposed to Covid at Yarl’s Wood, and later on Friday she was released, being ordered to quarantine at her sister’s home in Bexleyheath in south-east London until 17 February, while Border Force officials kept her passport.

Luke Piper, a former immigration solicitor who works for the3million campaign group, said rules were confusing and accused Border Force of being overly aggressive, stressing that “there is absolutely no need to send someone to Yarl’s Wood if they can stay with family until the expulsion.”

Meanwhile, the Home Office has claimed the new rules were clear and could be easily checked online.

“We require evidence of an individual’s right to live and work in the UK,” a spokesperson said, claiming in a contradictory statement that visitors without work visas may “attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews” and “negotiate and sign deals and contracts.”

Araniya Kogulathas, a barrister with the NGO Bail for Immigration Detainees, asserted that EU people are being affected by Britain's “hostile immigration environment.”

“The Home Office need to explain why exploring the job market or attending an interview justifies refusing EEA nationals entry at the border when immigration rules specifically allow visitors to – among other things – attend meetings, conferences and interviews,” Ms. Kogulathas said.

“It seems to be detaining people despite being unclear of its own position. This is yet another illustration of the normalization of immigration detention in the UK and the Home Office’s disdain for the right to liberty,” she added.

The European Commission recently said that they are keeping a close eye on the way EU citizens are being treated by the UK government.

A leading European Commission spokesperson for Foreign Affairs said it was concerned about “the conditions and duration of retention.”

Since Brexit enforcement in January, the Home Office has not released data on border detentions, and it is unknown how many of those detained have been able to or willing to contact their consulates.

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