How COVID-19 Has Worsened the Plight of UK Migrants
A new report written jointly by the Kanlungan Filipino Consortium, the human rights charity RAPAR, and the British Academy has highlighted the precarious situation of many migrants in the UK. The research focused on the impact of COVID-19 on Filipino migrants, many of whom are undocumented and were already struggling as a result of the UK’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies. Out of the 78 Filipino migrants surveyed, 59 were undocumented, five were students, four were tourists, and two were asylum seekers. Over half of those involved in the research worked as cleaners or domestic workers, and 38 percent were carers or nannies.
The impact of COVID-19 on the Filipino migrants
The research paints a clear picture of migrants who were already struggling to find secure and well-paid work, who were made more vulnerable by COVID-19. Domestic cleaning and care work were often lost due to the risk of spreading COVID-19. And without access to help such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, those without work simply had no income. Many migrants were forced to borrow money, spend any savings they had, or ask for help from charities, in a bid simply to avoid destitution.
In one case, a migrant called Markova, who had lost 60 percent of his income, had symptoms of COVID-19 for three weeks in February. And another migrant, Fundics, said that even though he did not have symptoms, if he did, due to the lack of support available, he would be torn between self-isolating and going to work.
The risks which the migrants interviewed had to endure were deeply concerning. Peachybelle, a 68-year-old carer said she had to care for an elderly lady who was released back home with a positive diagnosis of COVID-19. And despite asking for PPE, she had to work without adequate protection. Then in March, she herself had symptoms of the virus.
Access to healthcare when experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
One of the most concerning aspects of the stories provided by the Filipino migrants was that out of 13 of the 78 who had COVID-19 symptoms, only one person sought medical assistance from any part of the NHS. This was often due to fears of being reported by the healthcare service to immigration authorities. The Kanlungan Filipino Consortium explained in the report that they were aware of cases of undocumented migrants dying at home from COVID-19, although this was not the case for any of the 78 participants in the study. One of the participants, Fundics, is reported as simply saying, “I don’t have any idea about healthcare in the UK. I just use paracetamol”, and another, Bry, explained the fear of being sent home, “you’re scared. Every step, you look back, because you don’t know. Are the doctors going to tell on you? They said it’s confidential, but you don’t really know if it’s true.”
Overcrowded homes and accommodation
COVID-19 has also negatively affected the living arrangements of migrants. Many migrants, especially those who are undocumented, live in temporary accommodation shared with others. This poses a challenge at the best of times, but as a result of the pandemic, many have had to find new accommodation or have struggled to keep themselves safe from potentially contracting the virus. In the case of one migrant in the study, they had been forced to leave the accommodation in which 14 people shared five bedrooms, and every single resident showed symptoms of the virus in March.
While it may be possible for some people to find new accommodation, this is especially difficult for undocumented migrants who lack the paperwork necessary to pass ‘right to rent’ checks, or the money to pay a deposit.
Related Article: Read also ‘Your options if you’re an illegal immigrant in the UK’
The psychological impact of COVID-19
While there is often a focus on the impact of Coronavirus on financial and physical health, the mental health of those affected is too often ignored. Many migrants are experiencing acute levels of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty wrought by the pandemic. If British nationals and settled persons with the benefit of state assistance are themselves worried, it stands to reason that undocumented migrants and those waiting for a decision on asylum applications will be worried about their situation.
The cumulative effect of immigration, money, health, safety, and accommodation problems, combined with a general level of uncertainty, is having a corrosive impact on the health of migrants. One study participant, Maria Nola, explained how she felt; “You are stressed with the financial things. You are stressed because [what] if you get it, and then you pass it on. It’s been three months now: no money. Your mood is very low. You don’t even want to move; you don’t even want to get up. Because what am I going to do now? It is depression.”
Mental health is being further impacted because of the unwillingness of some migrants, especially those who are undocumented, to seek help from the healthcare system, again due to fears of being reported to the Home Office and sent home.
So much can be done to help migrants in the UK who are suffering disproportionately compared to other migrants whose immigration status is regularised, and especially those who have indefinite leave to remain and have recourse to public funds. The reality is that the hostile environment which continues to be pervasive within the UK immigration system is keeping people from stepping out of the shadows to regularise their position. Those who do have a visa to be in the UK and have been adversely affected by COVID-19 should if only on a temporary basis, have their ‘NRPF’ (no recourse to public funds) conditions lifted, to allow them to seek the help they need for themselves and their family. And finally, there should be a wider message to all migrants that even if they are undocumented, this should not prevent them from accessing healthcare if they believe they have symptoms of COVID-19. Whether the government will do anything new to make the lives of migrants such as those in the study any easier remains to be seen; we can only hope they do.
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