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Immigrants, refugees, covid-19, vaccine

MRSN joins call on the Department of Health to take action to ensure the coronavirus vaccine is safely accessible to everyone

  • BMA, Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, and 60 MPs raise concerns over impact of hostile immigration policy
  • Fears that significant numbers of immigrants will be excluded from vaccine rollout
  • 'Hostile environment' has had severe impact on migrants’ understanding of their rights to healthcare

Manchester Refugee Network has called on the Department of Health to ensure the coronavirus vaccine is safely accessible to everyone regardless of immigration status, ID or proof of address.

The BMA, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, and 60 cross-party MPs have raised concerns over the impact of hostile immigration policies excluding migrant and BAME communities from the NHS.

 They fear that significant numbers of immigrants will be excluded from the vaccine rollout.

Immigrants, refugees, covid-19, vaccine
Medics says asylum seekers are being treated unfairly

The call follows an announcement by the government declaring an ‘amnesty’ stopping the sharing of data about immigrants between the NHS and the Home Office.

MedAct, the group which organised the action, says the government’s announcement amounted to nothing more than a repeat of current policy.

It has called for a firewall preventing any patient information gathered by the NHS or Test and Trace being used for the purposes of immigration enforcement

  • to end all ‘hostile environment’ measures in the NHS
  • to provide specific support to all GP surgeries to ensure that all other routes to vaccination are accessible to everyone
  • and to fund a public information campaign to ensure that communities impacted by the Hostile Environment are aware of their right to access the vaccine.

James Skinner, campaign and programme lead for health and human rights at MedAct, said the hostile environment has had a severe impact on migrants’ understanding of their rights to health care.

He said: “When we’re talking about the fear and racial profiling that happens because of the hostile environment the impact is huge and affects many people.

“Beyond just putting some stories out in the national press, the government needs to engage in a more systematic public information campaign, so people know their rights to access care.

“Policies driven by the Home Office to integrate immigration enforcement into every aspect of life in this country have been done to mobilise anti-migrant sentiment to garner support for the government— there are no discernible financial or health benefits from these policies.”

Immigrants, refugees, covid-19, vaccine
Doctos say a hostile Home Office envronment is deterring asylum seekers from seeking medical aid

He acknowledged that the government’s recent announcement represented a tacit admission that change was needed.

He said: “The interesting things about the announcement on Monday is that it is the first time they have accepted that the hostile environment is incompatible with a meaningful health response to the pandemic.

“We are slowly starting to see the government recognise the effect these policies are having.”

Belay Kahsay, manager of MRSN, said many of the migrants he works with, and the BAME community more generally, were sceptical of coronavirus. He believes the government has not done enough to communicate with these communities.

 “Some in the BAME communities and refugees don’t believe there is coronavirus. The government needs to do more to communicate to these people,” he said.

“Everyone needs to get vaccinated regardless of their immigration’s status.”

Immigrants, refugees, covid-19, vaccine

Mr Belay added that there were thousands of refugees and undocumented migrants living in Manchester, many of whom have struggled to access healthcare throughout the pandemic and who will most likely struggle or avoid accessing vaccination.

Research by the Pew Research Centre estimated that there were between 800,000 and 1.2m ‘unauthorised immigrants’ in the UK in 2017. But Oxford University’s Migration Observatory said there were ‘significant questions about the accuracy of the estimates’ as it explored a variety of other studies on the issue, which said the number could be anywhere from between 120,000 and 1.3m.

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