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The UK’s hostile environment put migrants and refugees more at risk during the pandemic

A report looking into the impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities has found that the UK’s hostile immigration policies left migrants and refugees inadequately protected from COVID-19.

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Report finds hostile environment left migrants unprotected during the pandemic

A recent report by Migrant Voice, Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research (RAPAR) and Kanlungan Filipino Consortium has found that financial limitations and overcrowded accommodation significantly impacted migrants’ ability to keep themselves safe from both contracting and transmitting COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.

The report, titled “Releasing resilience and building networks of resilience: learning from the survey, interviews, and evaluation”, is part of the Building Resilience project which aims to explore the impacts of COVID-19 and the lockdowns on marginalised communities, and to begin a process of organising, empowering and building networks of resilience with some of the migrant communities most marginalised by COVID-19, including those who are without status, those with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and those who are in the asylum process or who have been refused asylum

198 respondents were surveyed and asked questions about personal circumstances during the pandemic and lockdowns, including accommodation and family, finances, the means to buy food and other necessities, physical and mental health needs, personal safety, support and networks, strategies of coping and resilience, and hopes for the future.

Interviews and focus groups were also conducted with 25 of those who were surveyed.

immigration report

Physical and mental health concerns during pandemic

80% of the participants were concerned about their physical health during the pandemic, but despite this concern, over half of all participants felt that they could not access healthcare easily and 20% said that they could not access healthcare at all. Anyone residing in the UK has a right to register with a GP, but many migrants experienced difficulties in doing so.

Only 10% of respondents felt that their mental health had not been affected by the pandemic, and 40% reported that their mental health had been greatly affected. The report also found evidence to suggest that pre-existing mental health conditions of some respondents, such as PTSD, had been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Financial concerns

80% of respondents were worried about their financial situation during the pandemic, and about being able to afford food and other items that they might need; of these 80%, almost half did not have enough money to meet their needs, and 35% could meet 23 their needs only sometimes

Financial concerns were due to a range of reasons including not having a sufficient income, not being legally allowed to work and losing their job. 60% of those who were worried about their financial situation needed access to financial support, but over half were unable to access this support. This was mainly due to their immigration status not qualifying for financial support, including those affected by the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) policy.

Without access to this support, many migrants have been left destitute, one undocumented woman said:

“During the big changes in the circumstances, I cannot work because of the restrictions, which means I will not have income because of my status. If I don’t work, no pay, no food, I cannot pay my bills and rent so my situation becomes very difficult. Since I’m not able to work, I don’t have enough money, I don’t have money to pay rent so my landlady kicked me out.”

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home office

How has the hostile environment impacted migrants during COVID-19?

Many of the detrimental impacts that the pandemic has had on marginalized migrant communities can be traced back to the harmful effects of the UK’s hostile environment. With a severe lack of support from the UK government, many migrants have been forced to return to their home countries if possible, and when that hasn’t been possible have been forced to put their health at risk or face destitution.

The pandemic has merely exacerbated the issues that migrants already faced at the hands of the hostile environment. The No Recourse to Public Funds policy means that migrants living in the UK temporarily, even those who are here legally, are unable to claim public funds. Over 4 million migrants are affected by this. Whilst UK citizens have benefitted from government support schemes like the furlough scheme, migrants have been left to deal with the impacts of COVID alone.

Asylum seekers are also victims to the hostile environment, whilst awaiting their claim for asylum they are barred from working and given little financial assistance. This means that during a pandemic, many have been able to access basis necessities like masks and sanitizer. Not only has the hostile environment left asylum seekers unable to protect themselves in this way, but it’s also put them at an increased risk of contracting COVID due to the unsafe conditions that the Home Office has used to house them.

Ex-army barracks have been used to house hundreds of asylum seekers, only to later become the site of mass COVID outbreaks, leaving residents feeling unsafe and at risk of becoming ill.

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