FAMILIES of thousands of EU nationals with criminal convictions face being split up after Brexit, an Oxford campaigner has warned.

Ewa Gluza, chairwoman of Oxford Polish Association, has said she fears that thousands of husbands, fathers and brothers will 'simply be deported' after Brexit, regardless of how long they have lived in the UK, how much they have contributed or the families they have built here.

And, she has warned, it is innocent children who will suffer most.

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Mrs Gluza raised the alarm over the current guidance for EU nationals with criminal convictions wanting to stay in the country.

A government website with post-Brexit advice warns that any EU national who has been to prison in the past five years will not 'usually' be considered for settled status.

Even those with minor convictions who have never been to prison will still be considered on a case-by-case basis taking security into account, it says.

The Home Office says it will consider every application, and so far only one out of 1.5 million applicants has been denied settled status because of criminality, however Mrs Gluza says the situation remains too unclear.

She told this paper: "It’s a scandal.

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"For now it appears that all the EU nationals who are or were in prison will simply be deported after Brexit, even those who have lived here for years, worked and contributed to society and the economy.

"Many have families here, so what’s going to happen to them? Are they going to be separated? Isn’t separating a family a way of forcing those left behind to leave?

"We know who will suffer the most under that scenario – the children: they are innocent but will effectively be punished, it’s going to be a tragedy.

"It’s another example of how Brexit has not been thought through."

As of March this year, nearly 11 per cent of prison inmates in England and Wales were foreigners – 9,079 out of 82,676.

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They are from 161 countries around the world: the largest group are non-EU Albanians (802 inmates), followed by citizens of three EU countries – Poland (791), Romania (723) and Ireland (705).

Many of those are incarcerated at Oxfordshire's two prisons – Bullingdon near Bicester and Huntercombe near Wallingford.

Under EU law, countries can deport citizens of other member-states for security reasons, and in the past decade, the UK has increasingly exercised this right: according to Oxford University's Migration Observatory, 'the share of returned foreign national offenders that were EU citizens has risen from 14 per cent in 2009 (748 cases) to 68 per cent in 2018 (3,670 cases)'.

The majority of those offenders had spent time in prison.

However, the EU's Citizens’ Directive does impose limitations on deporting unwanted individuals: City University of London lecturer Adrienne Yong wrote recently on The Conversation website: "For permanent residents (who have lived in another EU state for over five years), only serious grounds under public policy or public security will justify expulsion."

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For those who have lived in a member state for ten or more years, or who are minors, only 'imperative grounds of public policy or security would be accepted', she added.

Despite those rules, it is still unclear how the directive will apply to the UK's settled status scheme.

Opened on March 30 this year, the scheme aims to formalise the post-Brexit status of three million EU nationals living in the UK.

EU nationals now have until June 30, 2021, to register – or December 31, 2010, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

After the deadline, only those given settled or pre-settled status will be lawfully entitled to live in the UK.

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However, current and former prisoners might well expect to be denied the status.

The Government's settled status website warns that applications from those with criminal convictions will be decided on a 'case-by-case' basis.

It adds: "If you’ve been to prison, you usually need five years’ continuous residence from the day you were released to be considered for settled status."

It also states, however, that spent convictions, cautions and speeding fines do not need to be declared.

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Mrs Gluza said she feared that these warnings were so strongly worded they might mislead people with minor convictions and discourage some from applying at all.

She said: "There are no clear procedures here, it simply doesn't make any sense."

A Home Office spokesperson said the Government was only likely to reject a settled status bid in the case of 'serious criminality'.

They added: "Until now only one person out of 1.5 million applicants has been denied the settled status on a base of criminality."

However it remains unknown how many applicants had a criminal record.

The Home Office was asked for more clarity on the policy but had not responded at time of going to print.