How is COVID-19 affecting migrants?
As different Governments around Europe struggle to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not surprising that the most disadvantaged groups in our society such as the homeless, refugees and migrants can be forgotten or worse still scapegoated and even physically intimidated. These groups have very limited social networks and/or limited economic means; making them especially vulnerable during the lockdown restrictions.
Being a migrant is challenging at the best of times with having to learn a new language, assimilate into a new culture, navigate unfamiliar rules and above all else having to start economically from scratch. Fundamentals such as food, warmth and shelter which most of us take for granted become a daily trial. Accessing services and support is hampered by language and lack of familiarity with processes, customs and / or direct access to the internet. The danger is that large swaths of migrants get ‘lost in the system’ and therefore, feel even more marginalised; which wrongly makes them feel like ‘illegal citizens’.
In the UK, the Joint Council for the Welfare; of Immigrants (JCWI) have lobbied the Government for urgent changes to ensure the safety of migrants in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes promoting access to healthcare services, removing penalties for missing medical or court appointments, that no one is made an 'overstayer' because of being self-isolated or unable to return to a country that is not safe to travel to, and to provide specialist support for those housed in shared asylum accommodation. Whilst there has rightly been a lot of focus and concern for the elderly in nursing / care homes, we should also remember the need for ‘testing’ and where necessary, re-housing for particularly vulnerable people in shared asylum residences.
To raise awareness of the plight of refugees the UN Refugee Agency ran a blog to capture inspiring stories from individuals who have established new lives in their new countries; with numerous examples of immigrants directly contributing to the fight against the pandemic by either working on Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) or being in a key worker role.
Migrants in our pilot locations of Birmingham, Malaga, Larissa or Palermo face very similar issues when it comes to trying to access services and support, albeit that each country has its own nuances when it comes to navigating complexity. In the Japanese language, the word for crisis “kiki” is a combination of two words: ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. The COVID-19 crisis is clearly placing great pressure on services across Europe, so the easyRights project is now even more vital to enable migrants to access the services they are entitled to. Perhaps there is an opportunity to accelerate the implementation of best practices, as all citizens are more attuned to the plight of those less fortunate than themselves.