Charities fear approximately one million undocumented migrants in the UK are at risk as we face the coronavirus pandemic, not just because of the risk of contracting the disease but of starvation due to the ongoing food crisis.
There is no concise record documenting the exact number of undocumented migrants in Britain. An undocumented migrant is someone who does have a valid permit of residency, including unsuccessful asylum seekers who have had their applications denied but are too afraid of returning to their country of origin, temporary workers without an up-to-date visa or a victim of human trafficking who has arrived in the UK under a false pretence from the trafficker, such as the promise of a job.
As they barred from working, they are forced to rely on the goodwill of charities who work hard to provide vital food packages, clothing and supermarket vouchers
Pew Research Centre, a Washington think tank, published a report just before Christmas in 2019 estimating that between 800,000-1.2million undocumented migrants live in the UK. The disparity in the figures is because it is difficult to have a clear estimate, as migrants are afraid to go on record and be counted for fears they will be identified and potentially deported.
Asylum seekers who have had their claims rejected cannot access governmental support. As they barred from working, they are forced to rely on the goodwill of charities who work hard to provide vital food packages, clothing and supermarket vouchers. Sadly, many charities have had to close day centres due to the spread of coronavirus which has a direct impact for undocumented migrants finding food.
Mohammed, a 30-year-old Eritrean national who has been refused asylum in the UK has said he is “desperate and struggling to survive” in London as the pandemic continues.
Fearing the worst as the UK enters its lockdown phase, Mohammed said: “Every place where we got support is closed now” and “I am worried that I will die from hunger.”
Mohammed represents thousands of vulnerable migrants who have had their only lifeline taken away from them. As the Government steps up necessary support for its citizens, it has a duty to the vulnerable and that includes undocumented migrants.
Charity RAPAR’s Chair of Trustees, Dr Rhetta Moran, has demanded the government not leave undocumented people behind as it offers protection during the crisis.
As the Government steps up necessary support for its citizens, it has a duty to the vulnerable and that includes undocumented migrants
NGOs including The Public Interest Law Centre, Project 17, Migrants’ Rights Network and others have come together to circulate open letters asking the government to help impoverished migrants. They suggest Covid-19 homeless task forces are needed to help this specific group due to their complex needs.
As the Government considers housing homeless people in deserted hotels for the time being, it has not been confirmed if destitute migrants will have the right to access this provision too. Of course, all people in the UK should be afforded this vital support during such a critical time for all of us regardless of their residence status. The Government must make this clear.
A government spokesperson said: “We are continually reviewing the situation to consider what more can be done for those in the UK whose immigration status has been affected by coronavirus.”