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'A wake-up call': Deaths of homeless Indians in Ilford prompts Sikh community to launch new campaign

PUBLISHED: 16:05 16 November 2018 | UPDATED: 16:35 16 November 2018

(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

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Ten people have died homeless in Redbridge since October last year – six of them from India, trapped for years in a bureaucratic limbo. A community campaign is being launched to stop them dying on our doorstep.

Atam Academy's co-founder Mankamal Singh. Photo: Tajpal DhamuAtam Academy's co-founder Mankamal Singh. Photo: Tajpal Dhamu

Campaign Sikh Support aims to provide the borough’s Punjabi rough sleepers access to temporary accommodation, addiction and immigration support by bringing together a number of initiatives.

As The Recorder reported earlier this month, Indian nationals – predominantly Sikh Indians from the Punjab region – make up the majority of those dying on the streets of Redbridge.

“It’s a wake up call,” said campaign co-founder Mankamal Singh.

“I think we, the Sikh community, have let things slip a bit in east London.

“Many of the rough sleepers who died are well known to us. We know their faces and we have been seeing them for the last 10 years on the street.”

At a funeral service for rough sleepers who died in the past year - held last Thursday (November, 8) at St Martin-in-the-Fields in central London – nine out of 170 homeless mourned had the surname ‘Singh’, Mankamal highlighted.

That amounts to more than 5pc, while the London-wide Sikh population is only 1.5pc.

“It does not take a genius to recognise the disproportionality in these deaths,” Mankamal added.

“This is not a statistic to be proud of.”

Mankamal said that community groups like Seva, the Sikh Empowerment Voluntary Association, have been doing great work feeding the homeless every week in Ilford town centre.

But he added: “We know that more is required than just food.”

Many of the Indians sleeping rough in Ilford share similar stories - trafficked to the UK around a decade ago, exploited by the black market construction trade and now aging, ailing and afflicted with addiction.

They lack the documentation needed to return home but they cannot work or access services in the UK either - a situation known as having “no recourse to public funds”.

To address this, Sikh Support is working to foster support and raise funds for Project Malachi – which aims to create a temporary hostel out of recycled shipping containers in Chadwick Road.

It is also forging links with organisations in west London and Birmingham to provide rough sleepers with an alcohol addiction treatment service, akin to the AA’s 12-step programme, in Punjabi.

Finally, the campaign will be teaming up with Sikh Council UK to arrange Punjabi-speaking caseworkers for support rough sleepers in Ilford who wish to return to India do so.

The council has been appointed by the Home Office to repatriate people across the country through the Voluntary Returns Service (VRS).

Find out more at sikhsupport.org.uk or on Twitter at @SupportSikh or Facebook.

If you are interested in volunteering or partnering with Sikh Support email sevadar.ilford@gmail.com

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