A POLISH man threatened with deportation for sleeping rough claims he has lived and worked in the UK for three years and never spent a night on the streets.
Pawel Legomina was one of ten Europeans arrested in Brighton and Hove by immigration officers last Tuesday.
The operation, which was supported by Sussex Police, resulted in them being detained for breaching their legal right to be in the UK by sleeping rough under rules introduced in May, a Home Office spokeswoman said.
But Mr Legomina, who has been locked up in Brook House Immigration Removal Centre at Gatwick for more than a week, contacted The Argus claiming he had been on his way to work at around 6.30am when he was arrested.
He said he had slept on a friend's sofa near Hove station before going to catch a train to his next construction job in Leeds.
He claims to have been in Brighton since the summer, staying with friends while he worked for a demolition company at the Royal Sussex County Hospital and renovating a house in Kemptown for another contractor.
Before that he said he lived in London for nearly three years in Harcourt Road, Croydon, paying £150 a week in rent and working full time on construction projects.
Speaking yesterday the 37-year-old said: "I came to England to make a better living and hopefully settle down. I have been working the whole time apart from one week break in between jobs.
"I work hard, I have never committed a crime, I was not sleeping rough and never have done.
"I really liked Brighton and was hoping I could stay living there. I have done nothing wrong so I hope I will be released but this has changed my opinion of England now. I kind of feel it is a bit racist."
Mr Legomina was one of ten Europeans - eight men and one woman - arrested by immigration and police officers.
Two of the men were also Polish with the rest from Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. The woman was also German.
All had a legal right to come into the UK.
They were taken to an immigration detention centre before ahead of being deported.
The Germans have agreed to leave the UK voluntarily but it is not clear how many are still in the detention centre awaiting deportation or legal representation.
After repeated requests for more information the Home Office last night said: "Mr Legomina was lawfully arrested by immigration enforcement officers after he was found sleeping rough behind a car in a private car park.
"He admitted to an officer he had been sleeping in the car park, could only give the first name of the man he claimed to work for, and provided no information on the company or why he was not living in permanent accommodation."
Mr Legomina denies the accusation. He has provided The Argus with documents purporting to prove he has been consistently working.
No-one from Sussex Police, or G4S, the private security company which runs Brook House for the Home Office, responded last night.
ARE EU CITIZENS GETTING A ROUGH DEAL ON UK JUSTICE?
IMMIGRATION has always been a contentious topic and this year it has proved more so than ever.
The debate dominates as Home Office immigration officers go about their daily business of raiding areas of the country to deport those who have no legal right to be here.
What has confused and potentially concerned many about this case is all ten people arrested were Europeans who had a legal right to reside in the UK. There is no suggestion so far that any criminal offences have been committed, although that has not been confirmed.
The Home Office said the arrests were carried out lawfully under regulations introduced in May.
This allows them to arrest an EU national found sleeping rough.
The rule means any UK citizen would presumably be treated to the same in a European country.
We are yet to find any evidence of such a raid before in Brighton and Hove, nor do we yet know how common they are across the country.
To avoid risking deportation from the UK, Europeans must be either working, self-employed, self-sufficient or a student and cannot be sleeping rough within three months of arriving here.
This is where the circumstances surrounding last week’s raid prompt questions.
Pawel Legomina, one of the Polish men arrested, claims he has been living and working in the UK for three years. He said he has never slept rough.
He has been told he will be deported but he wants to appeal against this.
He claims he has asked four times to see or talk to a lawyer but no one has come in the week and a half he has been there.
He has since learned he might be visited on Monday – if he has not been put on a flight back to Poland.
When he spoke to The Argus yesterday he told us he was trying to stay positive but admitted he was becoming increasingly frustrated by his circumstances.
He said: “I feel like I am in a prison, like none of the authorities believes me. My boss is asking for me and is trying to speak to the officers to prove he employed me. I want to get back to work and get on with my life.
“I loved Brighton and thought I could settle there. I would have liked to. I don’t know what will happen now though.”
He claimed the experience had left him feeling England was now “a bit racist”, adding: “Maybe not ten or 15 years ago but now, I maybe think so.”
Surrounded by high fences and barbed wire on the outskirts of Gatwick, the detention centre he is kept in, houses 400 men awaiting deportation or whose immigration status in the UK is yet to be decided.
While the staff tasked with escorting visitors are friendly, there is no hiding from the rigorous security process.
After proving my identity, having my picture taken and belongings taken away, I was thoroughly searched and taken through locked door after locked door by staff.
The walls are adorned with paintings, poetry and posters encouraging those in attendance to “stay strong and be positive”. Other posters warn of the consequences of smuggling in contraband to detainees.
When we met the 37-year-old, whose family is dotted around Europe, he told how he came to the UK to work hard and earn better money.
He claims to have worked hard for various construction companies on projects around London before coming to Brighton for a job on the demolition site at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.
At that time, because the job was temporary, he stayed with a friend in College Place, before he moved on to work with one of his current employers in Kemp Town.
He said he was staying with a friend by Hove Station the night before his arrest as he was due to catch a train to Leeds for another job. He had plans to return to Brighton for more work at a later date.
Mr Legomina has been providing The Argus with contacts and documents to prove his story and pictures he posted on social media also appear to support his claims.
But the Home Office claims he was found sleeping rough and unable to sufficiently prove his claims.
His 34-year-old sister Ewa Walsh, who is Polish but now lives in France, said she was shocked to hear the news.
She said: “I understand criminals are being deported but he hasn’t done anything wrong and he told me he wasn’t sleeping rough. He’s worked there for three years to support himself. I worry this is all because of Brexit. It’s just one big discrimination.”
The word among the Brighton homeless community yesterday was that immigration officers had been directed to a place they call the “two towers” near benches by Hove beach.
It is known as a rough sleeping hot spot and is around a mile from where Mr Legomina says he was arrested.
Charities yesterday claimed the incident has caused panic among those living on the street.
Immigration campaigners last week branded the raid “absurd” and city councillor Michael Inkpin-Leissner, who is German and used to work as a police officer there, said he was appalled to hear Europeans were being targeted.
He yesterday called on officials to release more information on the raid.
Neither G4S, the security firm which operates the detention centre, or the Home Office, responded to the claims Mr Legomina had not been given access to a lawyer.
ROUGH SLEEPERS ‘BECOME A BURDEN ON THE SYSTEM’
If these people are European, don’t they have a legal right to live and work in the UK?
Yes. Europeans are still legally allowed to come here to visit, live and work without a visa, just as any UK citizen can in Europe.
So under what law did the Home Office act to arrest and deport these people, and why?
The Home Office said any European found sleeping rough in the UK within three months of arriving here will be arrested and deported because they have breached treaty rules which is an “abuse” of their right to free movement under section 19 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 as amended and published on May 4, 2016.
To be protected by the treaty they need to be working, self-employed, self-sufficient or a student.
The Home Office explained that this is part of a Europe-wide rule on rough sleeping.
When deported they will be banned on re-entering the UK for a year.
A spokeswoman said Europeans have a right to come into the country provided they do not “become a burden on the social assistance system or abuse their rights”.
Why did the immigration raid take place in Brighton and Hove?
Normally immigration officers act on intelligence before carrying out a raid but neither the Home Office or Sussex Police have been able to provide us with this information so far.
Homeless charities in the city claim the raid was targeted because officers went to specific rough sleeping hot spots.
How common is this sort of raid?
We understand they are rare but so far the Home Office has not yet provided further details. To our knowledge a raid of this kind has not taken place in Brighton and Hove recently, if ever.
Normally immigration officers focus on raids to arrest and deport illegal immigrants – those from countries outside the EU who do not have an immigration agreement or automatic legal right to live and work in the UK or have overstayed their visa.
Europeans who have committed a crime may also be deported as part of a sentence by a court.