Covid 19

Covid-19: Hostile Environment Jeopardises Public Health

Activists are calling on the Government to put an immediate end to the hostile environment as COVID-19 spreads worldwide.

Campaigners and researchers fear that deliberately hostile immigration policies and laws prevent migrants from coming forward if suffering from Covid-19 symptoms or ill health, afraid they’ll be targeted by the authorities.

Liberty, Medact and JCWI join many other organisations in the plea to Boris Johnson’s Government. Concerns are that many migrants are vulnerable and hostile measures put them at risk, which in turn affects the entire population.

Covid 19
Fears around NHS fees may be acting as a barrier to tackle coronavirus. [Image: New Scientist].

The groups are asking for an immediate suspension of NHS charges for migrants and suspension of data-sharing between NHS Trusts and immigration enforcement. The coalition of campaigners believe that this will mean migrants can access healthcare services without worrying their information will be immediately handed over to the Home Office, putting them in a position where they could be detained or deported.

Campaigners and researchers fear that deliberately hostile immigration policies and laws prevent migrants from coming forward if suffering from Covid-19 symptoms or ill health

Their public letter cites research that highlights the sad reality for so many migrants. Migrants are afraid to find the healthcare they need, even when exemptions are in place for issues such as infectious diseases, because of anxieties about NHS charges and data-sharing.

The Government adding COVID-19 to the list of exemptions is welcome and is necessary, but the fears are deep-seated. Therefore, groups are also asking that a public information campaign be carried out that encourages people to access the care they need.

The hostile environment is impacting those who need treatment from Covid-19. [Image: Global Justice.]

Demands include a suspension of ‘no recourse to public funds’ for destitute asylum seekers and migrants, extending or modifying visas as appropriate and ensuring migrants who cannot attend immigration appointments due to illness are not punished for missing an appointment.

The groups are asking for an immediate suspension of NHS charges for migrants and suspension of data-sharing between NHS Trusts and immigration enforcement

Satbir Singh, Chief Executive of Joint Council for The Welfare of Immigrants said: “The evidence could not be clearer – restricting any group’s access to healthcare is bad not only for their health but for that of the wider public too. We are only as protected as the least protected amongst us.”

The letter also explains the harm of keeping immigration detainees, as reported by ImmiNews this week.

Specialist support for individuals in asylum accommodation is required as this can ensure people are able to get the healthcare they need, be tested if necessary and to assist with rehousing for vulnerable individuals. Accommodation for those making a claim for asylum in the UK is often of a low standard. Unhygienic and overcrowded living conditions will simply spread COVID-19 at a faster rate. It is of benefit to the entire population to ensure accommodation is fit for purpose.

Liberty’s Policy and Campaigns Manager, Gracie Bradley, has reinforced the message that a data firewall between the NHS and immigration enforcement is of utmost importance. The data-sharing between healthcare and immigration authorities puts individuals in impossible circumstances, forced between prioritising their health needs and their safety, as often returning to their country of birth is an action that would put them at great danger.

COVID-19 looks set to shake our very foundations and one thing is for sure: we cannot survive this with divide and conquer tactics. The Government must consider the impact of this virus on all its people and that includes asylum seekers, refugees and migrants.

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