The hostile environment created by the United Kingdom’s immigration policies has left undocumented migrants, including trafficking survivors, extremely vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. A new study by the charity Kanlungan Filipino Consortium explores how 14 Filipino migrants’ irregular status affected their ability to navigate the pandemic.
Fear, unemployment and poverty
Undocumented migrants reveal they have been forced to avoid the Covid vaccine, dodge medical help when ill, give up jobs and take up more cramped accommodation during the pandemic, in a study that suggests the virus exacerbated the “deadly effects” of the government’s “hostile environment” immigration policies.
Almost half of the group said explicitly that they were afraid of trying to obtain the vaccine because of their immigration status, or were hesitant because they did not have enough information about it. Several said that they had to buy their own PPE to ensure they could keep working. One was eating just one proper meal per day to save money after losing work, while another volunteered for a charity in exchange for hot meals.
How the U.K.’s immigration policies undermine their COVID-19 response
The hostile environment refers to the situation created by policies that make it difficult and undesirable for undocumented migrants to stay in the U.K. Such measures limit access to services and opportunities, such as opening a bank account, getting a job, renting property, receiving welfare support, and using public services. In the context of a global pandemic, the “hostile environment” policies have heightened the vulnerability of undocumented migrants, including trafficking survivors.
Free COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccinations are technically available for everyone in the U.K. regardless of their immigration status. Nevertheless, the underlying threat of detention and deportation often makes undocumented migrants too afraid to try to access these services and poses an additional barrier for trafficking survivors. “I’m afraid to go to the vaccine because they’re going to get my details,” said one person. “It could be a trap.”
Moreover, treatment for “secondary or subsequent illnesses” is not universally available. Undocumented migrants are not usually eligible for free care for complications associated with the virus, for example.
Call for universal protection from COVID-19
At Freedom United, we are concerned about the barriers to testing, healthcare and vaccination faced by survivors of trafficking, people seeking asylum and undocumented migrants, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are calling on governments around the world to adopt measures to ensure these marginalized groups can access relevant services without fear of detention or deportation. Join us in demanding governments protect everyone from COVID-19 regardless of their status. Sign the petition today.