• November 28, 2021

Undocumented migrants and covid: the human tragedy that cannot be ignored

It was in early April 2020 when Elvis, an undocumented Filipino immigrant to the UK, died at his home with suspected covid. He was so afraid of incurring debts that he could not pay and of being informed to the immigration authorities that he had not sought help from the NHS.

The tragedy of Elvis’s death is clear, but so is the enlightened self-interest of providing health care to undocumented immigrants. Late detection means increasing the potential for infectious covid transmission for all of us with deadly consequences.

So what lessons have been learned about covid-related health care for undocumented migrants, particularly when vaccines and new treatments are available?

Covid treatment and life-saving Covid vaccines are free in the UK, regardless of the person’s immigration status. The Department of Health and Welfare requests the NHS trusts to ensure that “patients known to be undergoing testing and treatment for covid only are not subject to Home office health checks”. The policy of the NHS England is that anyone can register with a GP and thus receive the vaccine, or go to a vaccination center without an appointment, without any proof of address, immigration status, identification or NHS number.

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And yet, access to vaccines has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. The Investigative Journalism Office found that less than a quarter of GP surgeries (24%) surveyed in cities in England, Scotland and Wales would register someone without proof of address, proof of identification or legal immigration status, despite national policy of the NHS. The same investigation revealed that walk-ins sometimes request documents.

Asking for this personal information raises the suspicion of undocumented immigrants, even when it is not NHS policy to share data in these circumstances with the Home Office. In response to the Office’s survey, Dr. Habib Naqvi, Director of NHS Race and Health Observatory, stated that “this ad hoc advice is simply not acceptable.”

Confidence in the government and in the vaccination campaign continues to be lacking. In mid-June, I lined up at a walk-in vaccination clinic in East London for my first shot. The clinic was open to everyone (including myself, a young British man) and advertised as welcoming undocumented immigrants at Refugee Week 2021, promising “no questions asked.”

In front of me was an immigration attorney who saved a space for her client in the queue. I asked him why his client felt the need to bring a lawyer and he confirmed that he was afraid of being identified.

Soon his client joined the queue: he was a man in his 50s, like Elvis. It adjusted to a demographic of people most at risk to the devastating effects of COVID. When asked to give his details, he refused, but still received the vaccine.

Bringing in your attorney may seem unnecessary, but the incident needs to be contextualized. Until November 2018, there was a memorandum of understanding between NHS Digital and the Home Office that facilitated the sharing of patient data for the purpose of deportation. Although finished, the memory of this arrangement endures.

In addition, circumstances persist in which data is shared by the NHS, creating confusion about how personal information will actually be used. The NHS should share with the Home Office information about foreign visitors who have NHS debt £ 500 or more that has not been paid for 2 months. This debt can affect a person’s future immigration application.

Many other forms of hospital and care treatment are provided by migrants. A independent review Released in late June, Lewisham and the Greenwich NHS Trust were found to have charged survivors of domestic violence abroad for health care services, including prenatal care, which may have scared people out of treatment.

Although services for domestic and sexual violence are free, victims of abuse can still face bills of tens of thousands of pounds for other care that is beyond their means to pay back. From the perspective of an undocumented immigrant: if I can stumble upon receiving important care (even prenatal), why am I not going to stop receiving treatment for COVID?

Government statistics point to a higher death rate from covid among migrants. Still, oversimplifying the implications of these statistics can precipitously lead to the narrative that migrants are to blame for covid.

It has long been a historical trope to view marginalized ethnic groups as unclean and spreading disease, to speak of people as “rats” and “lice”, much as the Nazis claimed that Jews spread typhus. Social media testifies that undocumented immigrants are often blamed for the circulation of covid.

As a post shared 46,000 times on Facebook Last September he says, “It makes no sense to lock us up when there are 2 million illegals roaming the UK and our borders are still open.”

The “2 million” statistic is misleading. It is not known how many undocumented immigrants are living in the UK today, but a 2019 report from the Pew Research Center suggested there were as many as 1.2 million undocumented immigrants in 2017.

The Interior Ministry is, in many ways, the author of the spread of covid among undocumented immigrants and similar asylum seekers.

There have been several outbreaks in government accommodations for asylum seekers, including old repurposed army barracks. These facilities have been criticized for being overcrowded and unsanitary. The total number of covid cases at the Napier barracks in Kent was at one point equal to more than half its illegally hosted resident population.

The Home Office requires landlords to verify the immigration status of their tenants and undocumented immigrants cannot work. These measures further force undocumented immigrants to live in inadequate housing, as well as illegal and unsafe working conditions, making them more likely to become infected with covid.

How can problems related to vaccine adoption, covid healthcare and the harsh UK environment be solved?

Kawsar Zaman, founder of Participate in the Covid-19 vaccination campaign, tells me that “without a dedicated public information campaign through a dedicated network of charities, the problem about the guarantees required for migrants to receive the vaccine without repercussions will persist and ultimately jeopardize the effort. national vaccination ”.

Charitable and local community efforts can go a long way to assure migrants that vaccine clinics are safe spaces. However, a key actor should be the government in the distribution of vaccines and the dissemination of public information in a variety of languages. The government must ensure that access to vaccines is for everyone and not just a lottery as to whether there are charitable initiatives in your local area.

For government-led vaccination efforts to reach greater reach, trust is required. Anna Miller, director of policy and advocacy for Doctors of the World, says: “Charges need to be stopped in all services. Patients do not distinguish between different NHS services, which means that while some services charge patients and report them to the Home Office, not all NHS services can be trusted. “

When I ask Anna Miller about how to ensure that the NHS is not burdened by free health care for migrants, she responds: “Delaying access to health services requires more NHS resources in most cases because conditions Untreated advanced diseases tend to require more complex and expensive treatment. Ensuring that everyone living in the UK has good access to preventive or easy health care is the best way to conserve NHS resources. ”

A survey of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants estimates 82% of undocumented immigrants entered through legal routes and later lost their status. If undocumented migrants are not to blame for entering this country illegally with covid, then the focus should be on measures that can be taken to prevent the development of covid infections once the migrants are here.

When the 17thThe 20th century writer John Donne wrote the famous words “no man is an island” in 1624, he had just suffered from an unknown fever that was spreading through London. Convalescing from his near-death experience, Donne was encouraged by considering his own mortality and the interdependent nature of human existence.

Similarly, in light of the covid pandemic, a broader reassessment of hostile environmental policy (“compliant” to use current Interior Ministry terminology) towards undocumented immigrants may be necessary. Can it be worth the human cost and only exacerbate the current health crisis?

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