London

Hounslow rough sleepers arrested in Border Agency raid

Sixteen men sleeping rough under a bridge in west London have been arrested.

The men, who were living under the M4 bridge in Hounslow, were held after a raid by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

Two others needed hospital treatment, one of whom has tuberculosis. The area will now be cleaned.

BBC reporter Alice Bhandhukravi, who was at the scene, said there were needles on the floor and that the smell was overpowering.

She tweeted that the men were living in squalor and grim conditions.

'Cynical trafficking'

The 18 men at the scene were all Indian, most of whom were in the UK illegally, according to the Border Agency.

Those in the country illegally will be deported, while those who have been released on bail will stay providing they make their bail conditions.

It is not known exactly how many were illegal immigrants or what those who have been bailed were arrested for.

There were also two British men staying under the bridge. They walked away when officers arrived at 06:00 BST and were not arrested.

Paul Wylie, deputy director of the UKBA, said: "We've known for a while this is an issue that matters to the local community.

"There is drug-taking here. There is illegal working.

"That's why we've taken action to close the site, to remove the individuals, arrest them and remove them from the country."

'Destitute men'

Outreach workers from homeless charity Thames Reach have worked with the rough sleepers since October, 2011, area manager Mesorina Beqiri said.

She added: "We support the UKBA operation as these homeless men are unable to take advantage of the welfare state which provides a safety net for UK citizens, or to find work legally, and so were destitute on the streets.

"Most of the men had no passports so they could not return home voluntarily."

Don Flynn, director of the Migrants Rights Network, said there was a "substantial group" of people living in west London who had been trafficked.

"Their journeys typically began in the towns and villages of the Indian Punjab and there are numerous stories of people who have had the prospect of migration to the UK fraudulently misrepresented to them by bogus travel agents who have promised legal journeys and jobs in the UK.

"We are concerned that many of the people found living in these appalling conditions are victims of cynical trafficking and smuggling operations."

He said deportation should not be the only option considered and that if it was found that the men had been trafficked, they should receive aid and legal advice.

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