The government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is being undermined by immigration policies which deter migrants from accessing healthcare, campaigners have warned.
An open letter sent to home secretary Priti Patel on Monday (16 March) calls on the government to protect public health by suspending its “hostile environment” policies.
Introduced in 2012, the hostile environment is a set of administrative and legislative measures intended to make life in the UK as difficult as possible for people without leave to remain.
It means some migrants must pay fees for their healthcare based on their status. Their data can also be shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.
A Home Office spokesman told EachOther that Covid-19 has been “added to the list of communicable diseases” which means anyone experiencing symptoms will be treated no matter their status.
Among the letter’s more than 30 signatories are human rights campaigners Liberty and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI).
It calls on the government to “immediately suspend all NHS charging and data-sharing with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration enforcement and mount a public information campaign reassuring people that it will be safe for them to access care during this global public health emergency.”
Other urgent steps mentioned in the letter include the immediate suspension of “no recourse to public funds” to “ensure that everyone can access the support they need to stay safe and where necessary cease working in order to self-isolate.”
How Covid-19 is affecting migrants’ human rights
Article 2 of the Convention of Human Rights protects the right to life.
For healthcare, the government must have regulations compelling hospitals – whether public or private – to adopt appropriate measures to protect patients’ lives.
Despite an exemption from hospital charges for all those afflicted by Covid-19, the letter states that there is “significant evidence” that migrants still won’t access healthcare “because the fear of NHS charging and data-sharing between the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care is so ingrained…making them acutely vulnerable to the coronavirus”.
The government is also obliged to “recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”.
This is because the UK has signed the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Satbir Singh, JCWI’s chief executive said: “The evidence could not be clearer – restricting any group’s access to healthcare is bad not only for their health, but for that of the wider public too.
“We are only as protected as the least protected among us.”
A government spokesperson said: “COVID-19 has been added to the list of communicable diseases so anyone experiencing symptoms, regardless of their immigration status will be treated for free.”