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Half of homeless in central London come from Eastern Europe

Half of the homeless people in central London come from Eastern Europe, according to a report, as the UK government proposes to limit immigration from Romania and Bulgaria next year.

The report by the Westminster Council Rough Sleeping Unit shows that of 119 people sleeping rough in the area, 60 are from the eight former communist-led nations including Poland and Hungary that joined the European Union in 2004. “We are forbidden by law to assist” them, Angela Harvey, housing spokeswoman for Westminster Council, said in a telephone interview. “Many of them are exploited, their money and passports are taken by people when they arrive, who promise them work. The overwhelming majority just want to work.” The UK and Irish governments, responding to concern that immigration is straining public services and depressing wages, said last week they will restrict the flow of workers from Bulgaria and Romania when those nations join the EU in January. Britain has handed work permits to more than 400,000 eastern Europeans since 2004, lifting the jobless rate to a six-year high as people join the labor pool faster than companies create jobs. According to a separate report conducted by British Library researchers for Westminster Council, the areas worst affected report a 10% increase in crime committed by Eastern Europeans. International rail and bus termini, particularly Victoria coach station, "make Westminster the arrival point for many low- income people coming to London,” according to the report. It found London hosts an “active drugs market” and there are “high levels of street handouts or soup runs.” The report said that one third of all homeless interviewed were regular drinkers and one sixth of them are drugs users. Last week the UK home office announced restrictions on work visas to Bulgarians and Romanians, allowing them to be issued as they were before the countries were approved for EU membership, with high-skilled applicants, the self-employed, and up to 19,750 agricultural workers allowed in each year. Romanian gangs commit 80% to 85% of all crime at cash machines, the Sun newspaper reported yesterday, citing a memo compiled by immigration minister Liam Byrne and Europe minister Geoff Hoon, shown to Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary John Reid. (Bloomberg)