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Britain's Mean Streets -

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As Australia toughens its stance and rhetoric against so-called illegals seeking to arrive here, Britain is marching to the same tune. In fact, debate is raging over the issue of thousands of foreign nationals, many from Eastern Europe, who arrive and end up destitute on the streets. As the government brings in measures designed to deter new arrivals, Evan Williams reports on the human tide that is creating Controversy.

REPORTER: Evan Williams

It's close to midnight in South London. Charity workers Eamonn and Monica scour the back streets and alleys for what many see as a human cost of Britain's membership of the European Union. Migrants sleeping rough.

EAMONN: We found a dead body here of a Polish national who had been drinking alcoholic hand gel and mixed it with some black current and drink it.

Just along the street, they find a man in danger of a similar fate.

EAMONN: I know him quite well.

MONICA: Yeah, I know him.

Sebastien is a Polish migrant, struggling with drink. He's been living on London's streets for four years.

MONICA (Translation): Is this normal, or is it worse?

SEBASTIEN (Translation): It's worse.

MONICA: Yeah it’s worse… a blood infection and he’s going to die, he says…

AMBULANCE WORKER: Sit against the wall and I can do some tests.

On any one night, Eamonn and Monica work with about 80 rough sleepers in the Southwark area alone - a growing number are from Eastern Europe.

REPORTER: What proportion of the people here on the street that you help, Eastern or Central Europeans?

EAMONN: I would say about 40%.

Parks, alcoves and playgrounds are favourites for the rough sleepers. As the nights turn colder, so they start seeking more substantial cover.

MONICA: Where are you from?

JONATHAN: Romania.

MONICA: Romania.

Jonathan's been sleeping on the streets for three months.

JONATHAN: Somebody stole my bag with all my documents. From 2009, sometimes I work - sometimes I don’t because I have no documents.

From the street it's hard to get started.

MONICA: If you want to open bank account you have to give them the proof of address. So you are homeless, you don't have an address.

REPORTER: And then you can't get a job.

MONICA: I feel really sorry for them, because in my past life I got the same experience as they have.

REPORTER: You were on the streets?

MONICA: Yes, I was on the streets and I was addicted and now I'm sober over 11 years. So I know how hard it is.

To try to discourage unskilled Eastern Europeans, the Home Office issued this startling video.


Jacek didn’t have much luck, he did not have a backup plan and became homeless. Thieves stole his money and ID… and one night… while he slept.

There's no sign it is stopping the flow. On the streets they don't get to watch much TV. Dawn, over Central London, a different part of the city - the same problem. It's 7:00am in London's exclusive Park Lane. Alcoves outside expensive car showrooms now double as shelters for more rough sleepers. It's time for them to go before they all get moved on, but they're not going far. They will all be back here to sleep that night.

More than a million Eastern Europeans have arrived in the past few years and from January 1 next year there will be many more when Romania and Hungary are allowed to have free access to the labour market here in Britain.

NIK WARD: Migration is really embedded in our history.

Nik Ward is the head of Westminster Council's Rough Sleepers Department. His job is to try to contain the number of people sleeping on the streets.

NIK WARD: All these guys are here to beg. They are entrepreneurial. They come here, it's almost like a cottage industry. They come here to make a bit of money on the side. So here we are going to go down and look at these guys here and see what they're up to. We are going to tell them to move on.

REPORTER: What's the biggest problem you are facing with the rough sleepers from a council point of view?

NIK WARD: From a practical point of view, it's cleaning up after them - defecation, you know, on a daily basis - it’s to do with the deterioration of standards.

The Romanians are already on the move.

NIK WARD: Morning.

Nik's first job is to identify who is actually here.

NIK WARD: Can I get your bulletins please?

The bulletin is their Romanian ID.


NIK WARD: Why, for our records. I know you, don't I, from before? That’s me.

ROMANIAN: Westminster.

NIK WARD: Have you got a National Insurance Number?

INTERPRETER (Translation): Do you have a NI number?


INTERPRETER (Translation): National Insurance?


NIK WARD: You are from Stephanesdi region, why did you come here, why here to Marble Arch?

Nik realises he's from the same Romanian town he sent many back to already.

NIK WARD: I know 20 people I have sent back to Stephanesdi.

This couple tell me they're here because they simply can't earn enough money in Romania. They've already spent several months in France.

WOMAN (Translation): In Italy and in France people are more tolerant.

ROMANIAN (Translation): They give you a bed, food to eat, until you find work. Here there is nothing. Here, they throw you out, they call the police.

WOMAN (Translation): Here they are cold-hearted.

ROMANIAN (Translation): All racists!

WOMAN (Translation): Or whatever else you call them.

ROMANIAN (Translation): We Romanians are looked down upon.

But Nik believes this group is not here by chance.

NIK WARD: It's actually begging props, playing on your heart strings kind of thing. They're structurally positioning themselves to be completely dependent on the people walking past on the streets for handouts. Then, with any money they get, they are sending it back - they put the money back to Romania. They come from a tiny village, which is right on the borders of Moldovia, right on the edge of Romania and Romania is on the edge of Europe. So they're really a new country to Europe. It's kind of new poverty to old wealth coming to Mayfair, coming to Park Lane. You know, it makes sense, can I see why you would come here to live off the fat of the land, why you would come here to take the opportunities that seem to present themselves.

Working with immigration, the council has removed scores of Romanian street sleepers already. But EU open borders mean it is not easy.

NIK WARD: France had this problem many years ago and they really didn't deal with it. They kind of ignored it, pushed it to the edges and now they have got hundreds of thousands of Roma living there who have got citizenship and the right to be there, and there's not much they can do about it.

Some say it's a revolving door of unskilled migrants that Britain is unable to stop. Nik takes me deeper into the exclusive streets of Mayfair.

NIK WARD: These properties are some of the most prestigious and sought-after properties in the western world and we're regularly waking people up in the doorways because they don't make a distinction you know. You or I might look at that and think - doormat, door, residential property, probably best not to sleep there. They don't seem to make that distinction. They look at that and think, "That's a comfortable location, I’ll lie down there and get my head down". Their take on the world, their take on the world doesn't chime with ours.

He's in a hurry. It's past 7:00am and the rough sleepers are already on the move.

NIK WARD: We're just heading up to Bond Street. You can see we're in the heart of commercial London really, in terms of Oxford Street, Selfridges, John Lewis, Top Shop, Hennes, all these big operators. So someone who's just pooing in the streets outside their shops really compromises their ability to have that marketing strand.

This strip of exclusive boutiques has become a haunt for the new wave of Romanian rough sleepers.

NIK WARD: These doorways here - there's recesses there, lots of the recess doorways will have people sleeping in them. This is a good example from a location where somebody would rough sleep.

A cafe owner comes out and asks Nik is if he's from the council.

CAFÉ OWNER: Usually between 12 and 20. And down there, you know, they use it like a lavatory.

NIK WARD: I know, I know, I know.

CAFÉ OWNER: It's a nightmare and the smell, for the people who walk down there, people with offices down there. The problem is that the police don't have the powers.

NIK WARD: Well, you say that, but actually they do.

Nik wants a closer look at the alley used as a toilet.

NIK WARD: Really stinks.

REPORTER: I can smell it from here.

NIK WARD: And, like, you've witnessed, this is a really deeply prestigious street. This area that generates a massive amount of revenue for the economy - it's one of the building blocks really. It might be great now, but it's not going to stay great, or continue getting investment it needs to be. It's a competitive world.

West of London - Slough is also a favoured destination for Eastern Europeans.

RAY HASLAM: There are certain clues you can tell that an outbuilding is present within an urban environment like this. One of the ones we have here, if you see the hole on the side...

Former Homicide Squad officer, Ray Haslam is now in charge of Slough Council’s ‘Beds in Sheds’ unit - looking for unsafe, unregulated housing that’s been thrown together to house new migrants.

RAY HASLAM: It is an extraction point, a flue, for a heating boiler. If you look here, these are some of the more poorly constructed properties here.

Ray estimates in Slough alone there are up to 9,000 illegal sheds being used to house migrants. So he's adopted a ground breaking strategy. Aerial thermal imaging.

RAY HASLAM: If we have nigh on 6-9,000 properties, to knock on the doors and do investigation, would be quite costly, so we then looked at thermal imaging. If we look at this particular image here, it gives you the indication that it is semi-detached properties that share driveways and the purple areas here are identified as outbuildings.

These high resolution thermal images identify which outbuildings are being occupied. Now several councils want to thermally map their own illegal outbuildings. For many East Europeans, England's lush farmlands in places like East Anglia, offer good chances of work. Its main towns have received thousands of migrants, mainly from Eastern Europe, but it is causing a backlash.

BOB MCAULEY: We're not against the immigrant community at all. We're against the system that allows for so many to come into the country completely unfettered and completely out of control. We just cannot, cannot continue in this vein.

Bob McAuley is a founding member of what's called the Boston Protest Group - an anti-immigration, anti EU lobby. Bob recently won seats as a district and city councillor on the strength of his anti-immigration stance.

BOB MCAULEY: The majority of people in this country don't want to be part of this gang. We're sick to death of being ruled by Europe, told what to do - Legislation coming in, regulations coming in the back door. The country is being taken over by an EU federal state. We were never asked if we wanted any of that.

Bob wants to show me how Boston has been changed by the recent influx of Eastern Europeans.

BOB MCAULEY: You have Romanian, Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Portuguese restaurant.

A strip of Eastern European shops.

BOB MCAULEY: It's like they're taking over. When you walk down the street and see all those different nationality shops, it just reminds you there must be so many foreign nationals living in this town to substantiate and keep the shops going.

I get the opposite perspective about the same street from Latvian migrant Zie Babaks.

ZIE BABAKS: Well it was empty, mostly empty places and houses was before that and now it's all re-opened and I think it's useful now.

But, he says many migrants are forced into overcrowded accommodation or even onto the streets by the way in which they're underemployed.

REPORTER: So one job three people?


REPORTER: So therefore they keep them under the level, which means they have to pay national insurance, taxes and everything else?

ZIE BABAKS: That is right.

REPORTER: Is that quite common?

ZIE BABAKS: I know hundreds and hundreds of cases like that.

REPORTER: That means then that these people are not earning enough money to survive here.

ZIE BABAKS: That is why they are living in one house, more than 10 people.

For Bob McAuley, the cost of Britain's open border with the EU is most stark here at the local War Memorial. It reinforces what is to many an emotional debate - where it's hard to disentangle facts from a British sense of itself.

BOB MCAULEY: When you actually come to something like this for a service, and you think of all the hundreds of thousands of men and women that gave their lives and died to keep this country free, and to keep it a sovereign nation, and the sacrifices that were made…. the pathetic, weak governments, consecutive governments, I mean, not just Labour, but this Conservative Government as well, have allowed the whole country to be taken over by Europe - what did they all die for?

Bob is now one of the growing number of councillors in the United Kingdom Independence Party, or UKIT, which is growing in support across Britain on its anti-immigration policy. Long seen as a slightly comical fringe party, UKIP is now starting to rattle the traditional political establishment.

NIGEL FARAGE: 20 YEARS. Being in UKIP is like being on a big dipper ride, isn’t it? - just at the moment you think it is all going swimmingly, suddenly you crash down to the bottom again.

Its leader, Nigel Farage, used the conference to warn of an Eastern European crime wave and more economic woes caused by open borders with the EU. It is striking a chord with a growing number of British voters feeling swamped by Eastern Europeans.

NIGEL FARAGE: We have always been open minded but immigration should be people that we choose to come here - namely people that speak our language, want to become part of our society and have skills to offer, pay taxes, obey the law and don't have life-threatening diseases. In fact, what I would say is the immigration policy UKIP wants is virtually identical to the one that Australia's got. The idea that we should open the door unconditionally to as many as want to come from Eastern Europe, regardless whether they are good people or people with nothing to offer, is madness.

Many European migrants get jobs, build businesses, pay their taxes and blend in. The problem is that the homeless new-comers are a visible price for Britain's membership of the EU. It's divided the nation and the full political impacts are yet to be felt.

ANJALI RAO: The search for a better life goes on. Evan Williams reporting. We have an interview with Evan on the website talking more about the conditions the homeless were living in. You can watch a report from Romania by SBS Europe Correspondent, Brett Mason, looking at how this ongoing situation was viewed from there.