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Home Office failing to protect refugees from coronavirus

THE Home Office and its contractors are failing to protect refugees from coronavirus, charities warned today.

With many left with no recourse to funds and others expected to live on just £35 per week, the challenges facing asylum-seekers during the pandemic are immense. 

In Scotland, the Asylum Seeker Housing Project says that private contractor Mears has been slow to provide support. 

With no information reportedly issued about self-isolation, hygiene and social-distancing measures, it has been left to third-sector organisations to fill the gap. 

Even basic contact with the Home Office and contractors is difficult, with many refugees unable to credit mobile phones due to a lack of funds, meaning that providers do not know who may be ill or in need of critical food deliveries.

Despite social-distancing rules, asylum-seekers with top-up electricity meters must still walk for several hours every week to obtain vouchers from the Home Office’s contracters’ buildings. 

The project’s Anna Pearce told the Morning Star that people have been left feeling vulnerable venturing outside during the lockdown. 

She added: “It’s not too dramatic to say people could get very ill and die if they’re not looked after and get the proper information. 

“I have real concerns about people going hungry and starving, and what effect this has on people’s mental health, isolated without food. It’s a pretty grim picture.”

Ms Pearce’s concerns were echoed by others working across Britain, who called for reform of the asylum system to put people first. 

Refugee Action’s Mariam Kemple Hardy told the Star the government was “failing in its duty to protect people seeking asylum”.

“People in the asylum system can find it impossible to follow the government’s pandemic advice because they live in crowded and poor housing with a meagre allowance to buy food,” she said.

“The asylum system must be reformed so that, during this crisis and beyond, it always puts first the wellbeing of those who rely on it.”

Following the introduction of the current measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, the government faced calls to ensure that basic needs are met. 

An open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for access to healthcare, housing and food for all, with all undocumented, destitute and migrant people in the legal process granted leave to remain. 

One of the signatories, Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research (RAPAR), says there has not yet been a response.

RAPAR’s Dr Rhetta Moran said the Home Office had been unclear on how asylum-seekers can take a public-health approach to the current crisis. 

“In order for everyone in the British Isles to exercise appropriate public-health behaviours that minimise viral transmission risk, they have to have equal access to healthcare, housing and resources to keep them and their environments clean,” she said.

“The Home Office has failed thus far to make anything approaching a rational response.”

A Home Office spokesperson told the Star: “Asylum seekers who can't support themselves are given free, furnished accommodation. We also cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance to meet their other essential living needs. 

“We have introduced a number of changes to our processes to protect the safety and health of people in asylum accommodation to comply with public health guidance.

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