Undocumented migrants occupy some of the most substandard housing in Europe and are disproportionately affected by homelessness.
The right to housing is recognised as a basic human right in a wide range of international and regional legal instruments. In reality, undocumented migrants across are relegated to the margins of the private housing market through their economic and social conditions. They often pay above market rates for inadequate accommodation. In some countries, authorities/the law require landlords, letting agents and staff of emergency or temporary accommodation services to check the residence status of potential tenants and so task citizens with immigration control. They risk fines or criminal sanctions if they are found to be housing an irregular migrant. As a result, housing standards are lowered, suspicion towards migrants (and migrant communities) is increased, and housing is insecure. Many undocumented migrants and their families are housed in unsanitary, overcrowded, poor conditions at exploitative prices. They have to move frequently, and at times rely on friends and family, stay in squats or find themselves without accommodation. These conditions often impact their physical and mental health. Undocumented families with children can experience the impacts of inadequate and insecure housing disproportionately. Their irregular migration status means that they are unable to access existing complaint mechanisms or recourse on the private housing market, and lack entitlement to emergency accommodation and shelters.
Access to homeless shelters is not guaranteed for undocumented migrants in most countries. State-run or funded shelters often require a residence permit or social security registration. As many shelters across Europe face a high demand, they also give preference to citizens if costs for undocumented migrants would not be reimbursed or reimbursement procedures are complex. Sometimes undocumented migrants are turned away due to discrimination or concerns over the services’ ability to help the person find alternative accommodation. In a similar vein, private facilities are also reluctant to accept undocumented homeless migrants for long-term shelter programmes. Possibilities for undocumented migrants to access emergency night shelters do exist in many countries although many obstacles remain. In many countries the obligation to share data with immigration authorities and detection practices continue to be among the difficulties faced both by undocumented migrants and service providers. The difficulties facing accommodation service providers to provide temporary or emergency shelter to undocumented migrants are symptomatic of the increasing funding and capacity challenges they face. This is an increasing concern as service providers across Europe see growing numbers of undocumented migrants reaching out to their services.
- Conference report “Housing and homelessness of undocumented migrants in Europe”, October 2014
- International workshop “Housing and Homelessness of Undocumented Migrants in Europe: Building Alliances and Developing Strategies”, June 2013
- Report on the housing situation of undocumented migrants in six European countries: Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, March 2004.
Improve access to quality housing and temporary accommodation:
- Ensure undocumented tenants’ access to justice to tackle exploitation on the private housing market. Undocumented tenants must be able to file complaints against unscrupulous landlords. Judicial and administrative procedures must guarantee redress to all tenants regardless of immigration status, and appropriate mechanisms must be in place to resolve disputes, prosecute, and sanction exploitative landlords.
- Build a ‘firewall’ between access to housing and migration enforcement. Detection practices requiring landlords to check the residence status of tenants and sanctioning those who rent to irregular migrants should be ended. There is an urgent need to delink immigration control from the right to housing by removing all legal and administrative restrictions which seek to detect undocumented migrants or curtail their access.
- A rights-based approach to housing. Regardless of immigration status, all migrants should have access to affordable, habitable, accessible, culturally appropriate and safe housing, including shelters and other emergency accommodation, without discrimination. To this end, states must adopt all necessary measures to progressively ensure access to basic shelter and housing to all in their territory, and protect them from discriminatory, unfair and degrading treatment.
- Decriminalise undocumented migrants’ access to housing. Organisations and individuals providing shelter and assistance to undocumented migrants should never be subject to penalties, prosecutions or fines.
- Increase availability of housing services for vulnerable migrants
Enable temporary and emergency shelter providers to reaffirm the fundamental right to shelter, build strategic alliances with the migrants’ rights movement, underline the need for improved funding, and augment political pressure to increase capacity of temporary and emergency accommodation.