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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 October 2005, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
Homeless plight of migrant workers
Eddie has been living rough in Belfast for six months
Eddie has been living rough in Belfast for six months
Almost 8,000 migrant workers from countries just accepted into the EU have come to Northern Ireland in search of work in the past year.

However, for some the dream of a job and a better way of life is not realised, with many finding themselves living destitute on the streets.

Migrants from countries within the EU are legally entitled to come to the UK in search of work, but for their first year in the country they are not eligible for any housing or welfare benefits.

They are also not allowed to stay in statutory shelters for the homeless.

Consequently when their work dries up, so does their money and they are left living in a foreign country without any safety net.

This is the situation Eddie and Sergei find themselves in, with both men now living rough on the streets of Belfast.

Eddie came to Northern Ireland from Lithuania when the country was accepted into the EU in November 2004.

When he arrived in Northern Ireland, he secured a job working as a fisherman in Kilkeel, but when this job ended six months ago he found himself out of work and homeless.

Sergei, from Latvia, came to work as a labourer in Dublin, but arrived in Belfast six months ago looking for work after his job in the Irish Republic ended.

The two men used to live under this motorway bridge
The two men used to live under this motorway bridge

Since losing their jobs, both men have lived rough at various locations across the city, including under a motorway bridge and bushes close to the River Lagan.

However, after being attacked by a group of youths, the pair had to find an alternative place to stay.

"One night, six, maybe seven young people, absolutely drunk, maybe narcotics, (threw) stones. For me and Sergei, very dangerous," Eddie said.

Now home for both men is a scrap car, where they are allowed to stay with the permission of the owner.

Both men visit a drop-in centre for the homeless in west Belfast, where they are able to get their clothes washed and eat their only guaranteed warm meal of the day.

While such a life may seem intolerable, both men say they would rather stay in Northern Ireland than return to their homelands.

"We like your country, we like staying here. Find work, pay tax," Eddie said.

Maurice Rooney from the Housing Executive said Sergei and Eddie's case highlighted the difficulties faced by people coming to Northern Ireland to work.

"The government has placed restrictions on such citizens' entitlement to assistance from the state here," he said.

"In a sense they would need to be working in order to be able to access benefits, including housing from the Housing Executive."

However, he said the Housing Executive was working with voluntary organisations in an attempt to provide people in such circumstances with temporary accommodation.

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