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Punjabi migrants who came to the UK with dreams of a better life have ended up “bereft” and homeless and are now being helped to return home by a Sikh project.

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One councillor said that gurdwaras around the borough have been “inundated” by homeless people who are addicted to drink or drugs.

The project, funded by the Home Office, has been slammed by a migrant charity chief executive who says faith groups should be helping vulnerable people and not exploiting them as part of political point scoring.

But Cllr Balvinder Saund said: “Our local gurdwaras have been inundated by bereft homeless people with drug, drink and other illnesses.

“Many of them are trapped in the UK with no papers, no job, no housing, no recourse to benefits, no family, with no way back or forward – some feeling suicidal at their predicament.”

The Sikh Council UK has been given £60,000 for the scheme which encourages people to go through the Voluntary Return programme run by the Home Office.

“There are people who may not approve of this initiative but this scheme is entirely voluntary,” added Cllr Saund.

But Rita Chadha from the Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and East London, says these people are only given the option of returning home rather than being helped.

“This is not a role for faith groups and that’s the bottom line,” she said. “They should not be advising on immigration. It goes against the ethics of a lot of faith groups which is to help the most vulnerable, not to exploit them.”

She said the scheme had been tried in gurdwaras in south London and it resulted in people being too scared to go there any more.

“You should not have to show your passport to get into a gurdwara. It’s not showing people they have rights in this country,” Ms Chadha added.

“People will stop trusting faith-based groups as they think they will get shopped to the authorities.”

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