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Tue, 26 January 2021

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By Chris Sear
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UK government’s hostile environment for migrants has been in full-force during the Covid pandemic

UK government’s hostile environment for migrants has been in full-force during the Covid pandemic

The halt on evictions was welcome – though it took legal action to prevent the Home Office starting them up again right in the middle of winter and a second wave, writes Stuart McDonald MP. | PA Images

4 min read

Migrants are disproportionately impacted by Covid, yet receive the least amount of help from the Tory government. On International Migrants Day we should reaffirm our commitment to treat migrants fairly and keep them safe.

As we end a year dominated by the coronavirus pandemic, it is hard not to look at International Migrants Day through the same lens.

This year people across the country have become aware of and been deeply grateful for the role played by our migrant workers on the front line.  

Even by the time the most recent Immigration Bill was being debated in Westminster in May, I was paying tribute to far too many who had lost their lives: consultants from Sudan, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Uganda and Pakistan; a hospital porter from the Philippines; doctors from Germany and Iraq; nurses from Zimbabwe, Trinidad and South Africa; support workers from India and Ghana; and many, many more.

Right across health and social care, transport, food retail and production, and other sectors, migrant workers have been a crucial part of the effort to keep the world turning during the coronavirus crisis.

All frontline workers – no matter where they come from - deserve our praise. All workers who come to the UK should be treated fairly by the immigration system – but that hasn’t happened. We should have had a comprehensive and generous system of visa extensions for front line workers and their families, but instead we had a piece-meal, back of the envelope scheme cobbled together by the Home Office.

We have a UK government and a Home Office that for too long have seen migrants as ‘problems’, rather than human beings

Similarly, if the goal of the public health response is to keep everybody safe, and if we are truly “all in this together”, then the immigration system hasn’t played its part. When questioned, Boris Johnson has on several occasions made vague promises that everyone would get the support they need, including people who have no immigration status, and those whose immigration status is marked as “No Recourse to Public Funds” (or NRPF), which excludes them from social security benefits and other services. However, this hasn’t happened either. The Home Office has simply refused to budge on changing the rules to protect these people, and the full force of the hostile environment continues to operate.

These policy failures put people under immense financial pressure to work - whether or not it is safe for them or for their families or co-workers. Self-isolation is not always possible for people and destitution and street homelessness is a reality for far too many.

In the UK asylum system, the halt on evictions was welcome – though it took legal action to prevent the Home Office starting them up again right in the middle of winter and a second wave of coronavirus cases.  

Meanwhile, those in the asylum system in Glasgow at the beginning of the pandemic were treated atrociously. Both in my city and across the country, those seeking refuge have been cooped-up in hotel rooms for months on end without a penny of cash support. This has taken a devastating toll on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s most recent report revealed that migrants are among those who are disproportionately impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic, yet receive the least amount of help from the Tory government.

The problem is that we have a UK government and a Home Office that for too long have seen migrants as ‘problems’, rather than human beings who can contribute to and benefit our society. It sees only numbers – not workers, families, students, or refugees fleeing war-torn countries or persecution and in desperate need of our help.

On International Migrants Day we should reaffirm our commitment to celebrating the contribution of our migrants, and to treating them fairly and keeping them safe.

But to make this a reality, we can no longer have this current Home Office in charge of migration policies.

 

Stuart McDonald is the Scottish National Party MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East and SNP shadow attorney general and immigration minister.

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