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Italian minister criticizes UK’s decision to hold EU nationals in immigration centers

Italy’s deputy interior minister has criticized the U.K. government for holding EU citizens without work visas in immigration removal centers.

POLITICO reported last week that tens of EU nationals, including about 20 Italians, had been detained at the U.K. border and held in these centers.

In response, Ivan Scalfarotto tweeted: “The Europe of Erasmus, that peaceful and prosperous one made up of millions of young people that grew up building a common identity and culture, disintegrates when put in front of young people in detention centers in the U.K. If this is Brexit, it has a bitter taste.”

EU diplomats have expressed concern about the transfer of the bloc’s nationals to immigration removal centers, where they are being held for up to seven days in some cases before being returned to their home countries. This mirrors the treatment nationals from non-EU countries in the same situation have long faced.

The Home Office has not yet released official data on the number of EU nationals held at these centers since the start of the year. But POLITICO has heard of 30 cases involving German, Greek, Italian, Romanian and Spanish nationals. One of them, a Spanish woman aged 25, was released Friday after four days in an immigration removal center where a coronavirus outbreak has been detected.

Following Brexit, EU nationals are prevented from entering the U.K. for work purposes without either a work visa or EU Settlement Scheme status, which guarantees the residence rights of those who were living in Britain before it left the EU.

EU nationals can enter Britain visa-free for tourism and stay for up to 180 days. The U.K. Border Force is entitled to reject entry to EU nationals if officials have reasonable grounds to suspect they intend to work in the country but can’t produce a work visa. The officials cannot, however, ask EU citizens for their residence status under the EU Settlement Scheme until the deadline for applications closes on June 30.

A Home Office spokesperson said the department does not routinely comment on individual cases. EU citizens resident in the U.K. by December 2020 are encouraged to apply for residence status under the EU Settlement Scheme by June 30, they said, adding these people are “our friends and neighbours and we want them to remain.”

“For those who were not resident before this date, as the public expects, we require evidence of an individual’s right to live and work in the U.K.,” they said.

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