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Regardless of their immigration status, we must protect everyone in Britain from this virus

We must repeal the 2014 Immigration Act, reverse the ‘hostile environment’ and shut detention centres for good, writes Claudia Webbe

THE coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread suffering for too many individuals and communities across Britain. 

We do not yet know the full impact of the unprecedented economic disruption caused by the virus. 

With widespread job losses, it is certain that it will have exacerbated the hardship caused by a decade of austerity.

While the government’s financial support for businesses and employees has been far from perfect, many of those affected have been able to claim at least some modicum of support to cope with this crisis. 

Yet this opportunity has not been afforded to some of the most vulnerable people in Britain. 

Currently there is an unknown number of persons who are not citizens, who do not have leave to remain in this country. 

For a demographic that already faces uncommonly difficult challenges in their daily lives, the pandemic has only deepened fears over how to maintain an income, remain healthy or even stay alive. 

There are an estimated one million undocumented workers who lack any entitlement to support from the state, and who are therefore entirely without funds to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families.

Many undocumented people are destitute and living in the shadows, fearful of what will happen to them if they identify themselves. 

They cannot access healthcare, emergency shelter and food, nor report or seek protection from domestic violence, rape, exploitation and other awful abuses. 

In nearly all cases, undocumented people are not criminals — but simply those who have fallen through the cracks of the government’s callous hostile environment policies. 

Under this government citizenship rights have been deliberately obscured and deportation and removal targets have taken precedence. 

Yet they have made no effort to end hostile environment policies, which were found to be institutionally racist by the official inquiry into the Windrush scandal.

For people forced to endure this level of precarity, it is impossible to comply with government guidance on self-isolation and social distancing. 

I believe that everyone has the right to be in an environment where they can follow the public health directives necessary to limit viral transmissions. 

It is imperative — and in the best interest of everyone in our country — that the basic needs of all those who are living in our country are met, especially given the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on African, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

The tragic irony is that many undocumented people, who are living in constant fear of the British state, work in front-line services that the government has been at pains to praise during this crisis. 

The pandemic has shown that the people who really keep our society ticking are not billionaires and the super-rich, but nurses, carers, cleaners, checkout attendants and many more essential front-line workers. 

We must ensure that all front-line workers, regardless of their immigration status, are valued and protected as we rebuild our economy and society. 

The mistreatment of undocumented migrants reveals the fundamental hypocrisy of this government. 

It does not matter how many Cabinet ministers applauded NHS staff and front-line workers in front of television cameras on Thursday nights if they then do not ensure their safe residency in Britain.

It is vital that we repay the extraordinary contribution of front-line workers with a permanent extension of migrant rights 

That means an end to the hostile environment, shutting detention centres and granting indefinite leave to everyone living in Britain.

At a time when hate crime has more than doubled since 2013, with over 100,000 offences in 2018-19, it has never been more important for the demonisation of migrants to end. 

That means repealing the 2014 Immigration Act, reversing the “hostile environment” and shutting detention centres for good. 

It also means that it is essential for the government to take immediate action to ensure that leave to remain is granted to everyone in Britain, irrespective of their nationality or immigration status, so that they can access healthcare, food and housing. 

As lockdown measures are prematurely relaxed by this reckless government, it is also crucial that everyone in our society can adhere to advice on social distancing, ensure the health of themselves and their families and help protect the wellbeing of all people in Britain.

I congratulate organisations like the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union, the Status Now Network and the dozens of civil rights groups who have called for the British and Irish governments to deliver justice to all those living in Britain. 

Together, we can build a society in which everyone is valued — no matter their country of birth. 

Claudia Webbe MP is the Member of Parliament for Leicester East. You can follow her at www.facebook.com/claudiaforLE and twitter.com/ClaudiaWebbe.

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