“European countries have not done enough to ensure safe access to vaccines and certificates for undocumented migrants,” says Alyna C Smith, the Deputy Director at the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM).
As of July 2021, a COVID-19 vaccination certificate is mandatory for intra-E.U. travel. Furthermore, a host of European governments have since made proof of vaccination a requirement for access to certain spaces and services. Such measures aim to encourage vaccine uptake and reduce infection rates.
However, in an opinion piece published recently in Al Jazeera, Smith argues that these policies risk exacerbating the challenges faced by undocumented people, some of whom are trafficking survivors.
What barriers do undocumented people face when it comes to vaccination?
Mandatory proof of vaccination cannot be imposed on people who are unable to access vaccinations in the first place. In some countries, national identification documents or a social security number are required to sign up for or receive the vaccination. In Hungary, for example, proof of a home address is necessary, which is difficult for many undocumented people.
Among the foreign citizens who are able to access the vaccination, some are unable to get a digital COVID-19 certificate. Barriers include limited access to devices with internet and the poor usability of government websites which often are not translated or do not recognize the data provided by undocumented people. In Italy, for example, some people found that the code they were issued to enable them to access healthcare was not recognized by the health ministry as valid for the pass needed to prove vaccination status. This pass is required for circulation in public transport, workplaces and other spaces.
In many other countries where people without regular status are technically eligible for vaccination, many are too afraid to access the service. They fear that their details will be passed on to the police, which could lead to detention or deportation. Even in cases where a firewall between medical services and immigration authorities exists, such as in Germany, there have been data security breaches fueling existing fears.
Less policing, more inclusion, says Smith
In the opinion piece in Al Jazeera, Smith reflects on the impact of these policies and makes clear recommendations for boosting vaccination uptake among marginalized groups:
For undocumented people, these underlying inequities are compounded by barriers to vaccine registration, distrust of authorities and risks of immigration enforcement – not to mention, in most countries, a longstanding exclusion from national health systems due to their immigration status. COVID-19 certificates restrict undocumented people’s fundamental rights without actually addressing the factors that undermine their access to vaccines.
We know what could work to address vaccination rates among certain marginalised groups and it is not more policing. It is investing resources and effort in a targeted approach that reaches these groups, including undocumented migrants and partnering with local organisations to develop and implement programmes that proactively address the systemic barriers they face. This includes channelling reliable, clear information about the pandemic, the vaccines and their rights, from sources they trust, and adopting measures to reassure people that vaccination is thoroughly delinked from immigration enforcement.
Freedom United calls for protection from COVID-19 for all trafficking survivors
The Freedom United community is concerned by the ways in which governments around the world have excluded trafficking survivors and at-risk migrants from their COVID-19 responses. We’re urging countries to take action so that everyone, and especially the most vulnerable, can access healthcare, testing and vaccination, free from fear of eviction, detention or deportation.
Join us in calling for an end to discrimination against trafficking survivors and all migrant people. Sign the petition now.