The Coronavirus pandemic is having harrowing implications across the globe, affecting all communities. This week I met (virtually) with Refugee Rights Europe to discuss their work responding to the pandemic in refugee camps in northern France and Greece. It is deeply concerned to hear about the harrowing conditions many refugees are experiencing. Large numbers, including unaccompanied children and pregnant women, are being forced to continue to sleep rough on the edges of Calais and Dunkirk in northern France with no access to basic sanitation including handwashing facilities. Camps are increasingly overcrowded making physical distancing impossible, and refugees and relief workers are terrified at the prospect of the Covid-19 virus spreading rapidly.
Covid-19 knows no boundaries and the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities – those who are more likely to have underlying health conditions, poor nutrition and to have to live in circumstances in which physical distancing is impossible – are proving to be the hardest hit.
More work must also be done to support asylum seekers living in the UK. There are widespread reports of dangerous conditions in asylum accommodation, including non-family members having to share bedrooms, limited access to bathroom and kitchen facilities, and insufficient cleaning. This places asylum seekers many of whom have already faced traumatic experiences and have poor health, at acute risk of catching the virus. I have recently written to the Home Secretary to call for urgent action to ensure conditions are improved. You can view my letter here.
I also remain concerned about the wider impact of the hostile environment for migrants in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. I welcome the Home Secretary’s recent announcement that many visas will be automatically extended and to release many immigration detainees. However, there continues to be significant confusion for many residents, including those on Tier-2 Visas who may have lost work during the coronavirus pandemic. NHS workers from overseas have shown their dedication in providing care and treatment during this challenging pandemic and in return I believe that the UK government should show its gratitude by granting these hard working public servants indefinite leave to remain. The government should also scrap the NHS immigration surcharge for anyone working in our National Health Service – it is wrong that workers who are putting themselves in harm’s way to deliver health services should have to pay to access those same services should they fall ill.
Finally, there is widespread concern about the support available for people with No Recourse to Public Funds status, many of whom have the right to work in the UK but are not currently able to work and are not eligible for government support including healthcare. During this crisis everyone should have access to healthcare including testing and treatment. This is necessary to identify every case early, to prevent the spread of the disease in our communities and to minimise the number of tragic deaths. I have written to the Home Secretary and have tabled written questions to the Government which can be viewed here asking for the No Recourse to Public Funds status to be suspended at this time.
As ever, please do let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Myself and my small team are working very hard to respond to everyone who has been in touch on Covid-19 and any other issues. Please bear with us as we work through a huge volume of correspondence at this time.