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“We also want to be safe”: New JCWI report on undocumented migrants and the pandemic

Posted on 20th January 2022

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) have published a new report, which explores undocumented migrants’ experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic. The research confirms the stark reality of the Hostile Environment and the devastating impact this has on those migrants who are excluded from the public safety net and healthcare, and pushed into precarious, unregulated work and housing. During the pandemic, this led to a severe crisis and placed many at increased risk of illness, homelessness and destitution.

As part of the research for the report, Caitlin Boswell conducted 10 interviews with undocumented migrants and three interviews with front-line workers who have responded to the crisis, including five visitors to Hackney Migrant Centre and one member of our staff team.

We are proud to have contributed to JCWI’s important research. It has been clear for many years that the Hostile Environment and broader immigration system leaves many people with no safety net to protect them. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, many of the people we work were left with no access to support, and faced hunger and street homelessness. The demand on our services was unprecedented, with visitors left without basic necessities like hygiene products and food and many losing the support of the community networks or charitable services they would usually rely on. As detailed in “We also want to be safe”, the exclusion of undocumented people from public services, necessitated frontline organisations such as Hackney Migrant Centre stepping in with provision of food and health support.

Without this vital support, many undocumented people – particularly those who are isolated, unable to work and/or most at risk of COVID – would likely have been left with nothing (…) [Service providers] quickly realised that unless their organisations provided support to undocumented people in need, no one else would.

JCWI ‘We also want to be safe – Undocumented migrants facing COVID in a Hostile Environment’, page 24

Responding to meet this need was made possible through the work of our volunteers, the support from the community and our funders. Without this, our Covid-19 response would not have been possible, and we are so grateful for the support.

The crisis undocumented people have been facing throughout the pandemic has made it clearer than ever before that everyone in our communities need “the right to earn a living, get support when they need it, access healthcare if they become ill and feel secure in their homes” (page 27). JCWI’s recommendations arising out of this research include ending the Hostile Environment and No Recourse to Public Funds, simplifying the routes to regularising immigration status and removing the offence of “illegal working”.

The full report is available to download here.

Please visit JCWI’s website to see how you can take action to help ensure that migrants’ voices and experiences form part of the investigation for the public inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic.