'Trapped illegal Indian immigrants sleeping on streets in Southall
LONDON Feb 24: Hundreds of illegal immigrants from India are sleeping rough in appalling conditions in west London, a Sky News investigation revealed.
Unable to find work after the economic downturn, the men huddle together against the freezing cold under bridges across Ealing and Hounslow.
A lack of sanitation and washing facilities has created squalid living conditions attracting rats, drug dealers and disease.
They are known locally as "fauji" which literally translated means "foot soldier", but in this context it refers to hard-working immigrants without an identity.
The men arrived in Britain illegally to work as labourers when the economy was thriving and there was demand for home renovations and house-building.
Many risked their lives paying criminal gangs thousands of pounds to smuggle them into the country in the back of trucks - a journey which can take several months.
Because they were required to cross borders illegally, the men destroyed their own passports so they could not be deported to India if they were caught.
Now many of them want to go home. But because they cannot prove their identity to the Indian authorities, the fauji are trapped in Britain.
Only the goodwill of Southall's Gudwara and local volunteers prevents the men starving, or freezing to death.
Randeep Lall, 39, runs the Sikh Welfare Awareness Team, a voluntary organisation that donates food and blankets to the fauji every night.
He told Sky News: "It's diabolical, disgusting and disgraceful. I can't believe in this day and age people can live like this. An animal wouldn't live the way some of these people are. Five years ago it wasn't this bad. Guys were making a good life for themselves and sending money to their families in India who were building massive mansions there. Everyone wants to do the same. They think the streets of London are paved with gold. But when they get here they find they are not.
The economic downturn has played a massive part in this. These guys depended on people doing extensions and home renovations. Now there is no building work. Suddenly we are dealing with 150-plus homeless in Southall. I know one man living under a bridge who earns 60 pounds a week, if he is lucky. He sends that money to India to make his family happy rather than rent himself a room.
Some have turned to heroin as a means of escape
"If his family knew he was living like this they would be shocked and embarrassed. These men have a lot of pride and would be seen as failures if they returned to India. For those that do want to return, the Indian High Commission is making it difficult. If you don't have an Indian passport, they wont have you back.
The Border Agency comes down and finger-prints everybody, then they come back in two weeks and just do the same thing again. It shows the Government are doing something, but they're not doing a lot. People are still living like animals.
There have also been outbreaks of tuberculosis and many men have begun to suffer mental health problems. Some have turned to heroin as a means of escape.
Under a bridge over the Grand Union canal a pile of sleeping bags and blankets were found.
It was home to two Sikhs who had been sleeping rough for several months. When Sky News arrived, the men appeared to be preparing to inject heroin but the Sky News team were asked to wait while they prayed.
Later they said they had paid an agent 10,000 pounds to smuggle them into Britain and that the average wage for labouring work was just 40 pounds per day.
They blamed low wages on the increasing numbers of migrants who enter Britain legally on student visas who then disappear into the black economy to work illegally.
Both claimed their families were unaware they were living on the streets. Both said they wanted to return to India but were unable to do so without passports.
The UK Border Agency said: "We are working closely with local authorities, police and community groups across west London on a number of projects to deal with the issue of homeless migrants, and we estimate around 100 Indian nationals who were either homeless or had no fixed abode have been helped to return home voluntarily as a result.
However, each case has to be dealt with individually and some can be complex, with many not having travel documents or not wishing to comply with the documentation process. In the cases of Indian nationals we continue to work with the High Commission to speed up the time it takes to return them to their home country.
The investigation comes as newly released local authority statistics show that the number of people sleeping rough in England has risen by 23 per cent.