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Undocumented migrants' voices should be included in Covid inquiry, report says

THE impact of the pandemic on undocumented migrants in Britain must be investigated by the official Covid-19 inquiry, a charity has said.

Hostile environment policies have worsened the risk of Covid-19 for people without immigration status, a report by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) argues. 

Britain’s population of undocumented migrants — estimated to be between 800,000 and 1.2 million — are shut out from accessing benefits, housing and healthcare. 

This has left them excluded from the public safety net during the crisis, pushing many into destitution and homelessness, the report, published today, said. 

It adds that a ban on undocumented people from working pushes them into precarious jobs, often in front-line roles such as care work, cleaning and construction, leaving them more exposed to the virus. Many also lost their jobs when the pandemic hit.

“These policies have left people destitute, homeless and scared to access care — making undocumented people’s lives almost impossible, and exacerbating their risk of catching and dying from Covid,” Caitlin Boswell, the author of the report and policy officer at JCWI said. 

Pointing to countries such as Portugal, Spain, France and Germany, which introduced amnesties for undocumented migrants during the crisis, the report accuses the British government of instead “prioritising anti-immigrant policies over public health.”

The charity is calling for the independent inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis to include the voices of undocumented migrants, which campaigners say have been overlooked, despite this community existing “on the sharpest end of the Covid crisis.”

Ms Boswell said: “While the evidence is clear that the UK’s black and brown communities have disproportionately suffered and died from Covid-19, so far, the government has ignored the role our hostile environment has played in these racially unequal outcomes.

“[The government] must listen to migrants’ voices, including those who’ve lost status, and ensure that in the future, no-one has their life put at risk because of their immigration status.”

The report is based on the experiences of 10 undocumented migrants living in Britain.

All those in work before the crisis lost their jobs during the first lockdown. Many reported reluctance to seek medical help due to fears that data-sharing policies between hospitals and the Home Office could result in them being deported.

One woman, who worked as a nanny, said: “The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but to feel like you can’t even seek help without worrying about being torn away from your community has been agonising.”   

While treatment, testing and vaccines for Covid-19 were included on a list of exemptions to charges, this has done little to quell deep-rooted fears instilled by over a decade of hostile environment policies, the report found. 

The call for undocumented migrants to be included in the inquiry has been backed by Labour MP Clive Lewis.

He said: “Many of these people are on the front line of the crisis in sectors such as agriculture, cleaning and care. 

“Yet they don’t have a safety net because of hostile environment barriers to accessing basic services like the NHS.”

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