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Dad's wish to return to India granted after eight years stuck sleeping rough in Ilford

PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 April 2019

Bhupinder Singh is pictured at dinner time at the Ilford Salvation Army's night shelter. Photo: Anja King

Bhupinder Singh is pictured at dinner time at the Ilford Salvation Army's night shelter. Photo: Anja King

Archant

A dad who has spent more than eight years sleeping rough in Ilford trapped in a bureaucratic limbo has finally returned home to India.

Bhupinder Singh, 60, was flown back to his home town in the Punjab through the voluntary return scheme (VRS) last week following an improvement in his health.

He had been deemed not “fit-to-fly” in July last year but, when the Recorder spoke to him in November, he was living on the streets unable to access state support because of his immigration status.

His friend Kawal Singh, 60, died on the street months before, stuck in the same situation.

And another, Sodhi Singh, died days later aged 50.

(L-R) Sodhi Singh, 50, died on Saturday, November 3. Kawal Singh, 61, died on August 27 this year. Charity worker Tahir Butt fears Bhulpinder Singh, 59, may share their fate without urgent government action. Photo: Anja King(L-R) Sodhi Singh, 50, died on Saturday, November 3. Kawal Singh, 61, died on August 27 this year. Charity worker Tahir Butt fears Bhulpinder Singh, 59, may share their fate without urgent government action. Photo: Anja King

“He was really, really emotional the day before he left,” said Sonia Lynch, manager at The Welcome Centre in St Mary's Road.

“He just kept thanking us for work that our support worker Beverly did to help him return.”

She added: “I hope he is received well by his family and adjusts to life back in India.”

Tahir Butt, a friend of Bhupinder who works with volunteer group Serving Humanity, feared Bhupinder might share his friends' fate.

Bhupinder came to the UK in 1999 as an asylum seeker, fleeing political turbulence in his home town.

But he withdrew from the asylum system, hoping to earn a better wage doing cash-in-hand work in the motorway industry.

After sustaining an injury, he could no longer continue and became destitute.

Without formal status in the UK, he could not work legally or receive government support.

Nor could he return to India, after his passport was destroyed.

When his son died in a motorcycle accident in 2017, he could not go back to attend his funeral.

“The ultimate fate is with the hands of God,” Bhupinder told the Recorder in November, Tahir interpreting.

“Arrest me and put me in jail, give me nationality, give me status and give me a house or send me back to India.”

Last year, the Home Office and Indian High Commission issued Bhupinder an emergency travel document to enable him to return to India through VRS.

However, concerns around his fitness to fly had meant he remained stuck sleeping rough until the opening of the winter night shelter.

Bhupinder spent his last night at the Ilford Salvation Army (SA) night shelter, in Clements Road, in the company of his friends before returning the following day.

“I guess that is the closest thing to a stable home he's had over the past eight years,” said SA captain John Clifton.

“We are proud of him for taking this step to return home and pray he will settle quickly and flourish in a way that he was not able to here.”

Reacting to the news, Tahir Butt said he is sure Sodhi and Kawal would have been pleased for him.

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