A new report by the JCWI, a U.K. migrant rights organization, has exposed how the COVID-19 pandemic has left migrants without secure immigration status, including trafficking survivors, at heightened risk of contracting the virus.
Punitive immigration policies intentionally designed to create a hostile environment for migrants in the U.K. have pushed undocumented migrants to the fringes of society, preventing them from legally working and forcing some into having to accept exploitative work conditions in order to survive.
The report notes how undocumented migrants who were working in private households such as domestic workers, had lost their jobs during the first lockdown pushing them onto the streets to face homelessness and destitution. Within this context of survival and trying to meet their basic needs, migrants’ access to healthcare is inevitably impacted.
Culture of mistrust
Last year, undocumented trafficking survivors who were technically eligible for COVID-19 treatment and vaccinations were being wrongfully turned away from registering with local general practice (GP) surgeries.
One woman with insecure status – a domestic worker and suspected victim of modern slavery – said she had been turned away three times since March 2021 when trying to register with GP surgeries because she could not show documents.
There are several reasons why insecure migrants might end up without proof of address or ID: their documents may have been lost during their journey to the U.K. or stolen as part of abuse they have suffered since arriving in the country.
Undocumented migrants are prohibited from having U.K. bank accounts or renting, so they are also unlikely to be able to produce bank statements or tenancy agreements.
This oversight from GP surgeries exemplifies the culture of mistrust between migrants and survivors with irregular immigration status and government-led vaccination pushes during COVID-19.
JCWI told the National:
Public health should have been government’s number one priority over the past two years, with everyone given the support needed to stay at home, get care and get vaccinated without fear.
Instead, we’ve seen this government maintain their dangerous and discriminatory immigration rules undeterred.
These policies, which push people to lose status and then punish them when they do, have left people destitute, homeless, and scared to access care – making undocumented people’s lives almost impossible, and exacerbating their risk of catching and dying from Covid.
And while the evidence is clear that the UK’s black and brown communities have disproportionately suffered and died from COVID-19, so far, the government has ignored the role our hostile environment has played in these racially unequal outcomes.
Freedom United is urgently calling on all states to ensure all migrants and trafficking survivors irrespective of immigration status are guaranteed safe access to healthcare free from the threat of detention and deportation.