Vulnerable EU/EEA citizens risk being removed and indefinitely detained from 30th June. Migrants Organise is taking the Home Office to court to prevent this injustice. In this blog, our Legal Organiser, Brian Dikoff, argues that unless action is taken now, tens of thousands more vulnerable people are at risk of being left without any immigration status and plunged into the Hostile Environment.
The issue of mental health has increasingly entered our mainstream cultural awareness: newspaper columns advise us on how to protect mental health during lockdown, celebrities on social media feeds encourage us to share experiences about depression or daily anxieties. This awareness-raising is welcome, but our empathy sadly does not seem to extend to vulnerable migrants who suffer from mental health issues. At the moment, an estimated tens of thousands of EU citizens in the UK who suffer from mental health issues are being put at risk of losing all of their entitlements, forcibly removed or even indefinitely detained – and the government is not doing enough to stop this.
In March 2019, the Government introduced the EU Settlement Scheme, which is supposed to provide a convenient way for EU citizens to remain in the UK after Brexit. All EU citizens need to apply through this scheme if they wish to stay in the UK. The Government has allowed a “grace period” for applications to be submitted before the last deadline of 30 June 2021. The Government has boasted about the convenience of its Android app, which has an online log-in system that allows individuals to check the status of their applications. Along with the flashy app, they also rolled out tube advertisements encouraging individuals to apply. However, just like celebrity feeds, these measures have not been enough to ensure that vulnerable EU citizens with mental health issues are able to access the scheme.
Migrants Organise has spent over a decade providing ongoing and holistic support to excluded and marginalised migrants and refugees. Three years ago, we launched Migrants Mental Capacity Advocacy (MMCA), a strategic initiative looking into how migrants with significant mental health needs who might lack capacity to navigate the complexities of the immigration system by themselves, can still regularise their status. Through this, we regularly assist members who have really fallen through the cracks of an unjust and punitive system. As a result of our work with our members, we have concluded that the Government has not done enough to ensure that EU citizens with mental health conditions are able to access the EU Settlement Scheme and regularise their status.
Research by Age UK estimates that about 7% of the population (EU and non-EU) aged 65 or over suffer from dementia. Calculating this in direct proportion to the number of EU citizens in the UK, there will be roughly 8,000 EU individuals living with dementia alone.
Over a month ago, for instance, we met with Helen, a German national who suffers from schizophrenia. She presents with elective mutism and was street homeless for the past two years. Her conditions finally deteriorated enough that she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act without her consent, and she was then offered support by social services. Helen was referred to Migrants Organise because social services were not sure whether she was able to make decisions about her immigration status for herself or how to assist her in regularising her status, given that she did not disclose any information about herself.
A number of important questions need to be properly considered before someone like Helen can apply for the EU Settlement Scheme. These include, does she want to stay in the UK? If not, does she have anywhere else to go or people who can support her? Does she know how to contact them? Would she want to continue staying in the UK if she would not have access to any welfare benefits? Does she have her German ID? Immigration law is very complex and is constantly changing, and depending on the circumstances, there might be instances where applying for an EU Settlement Scheme might not be the best thing to do.
Someone like Helen, due to their clinical vulnerabilities and complex mental health needs, would need support to answer the above questions and access the EU Settlement Scheme. It was fortunate that Helen was referred to us by social services, but there are many people out there who do not have any support at all. We have worked with many individuals, for example, who suffer from delusions and believe that they are British citizens or that the government is after them. They would therefore never seek assistance themselves.
This means, come 30th June, after the so called “grace period”, individuals like Helen, who are unable to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme because of their mental health issues will lose all of their entitlements to stay in the UK and be plunged into the dark depths of the Hostile Environment agenda. Not only will they be unable to obtain benefits, they will also not be allowed to work, to receive treatment from the NHS, to open a bank account, or even to get a driving license.
There are many other conditions and disabilities which are likely to have a direct impact on a person’s ability to understand the immigration system.
It is difficult to have an exact estimate of how many people will be affected by this because the government does not keep clear data, and the people we are concerned about might not even realise, in the first place, that they need to seek help. However we believe that tens of thousands of people will be affected. For example, research by Age UK estimates that about 7% of the population (EU and non-EU) aged 65 or over suffer from dementia. Calculating this in direct proportion to the number of EU citizens in the UK, there will be roughly 8,000 EU individuals living with dementia alone. There are many other conditions and disabilities which are likely to have a direct impact on a person’s ability to understand the immigration system.
The Government has not carried out proper assessment nor provided meaningful policy, guidance, let alone concrete measures – apart from smartphone apps and Tube ads – to ensure that individuals like Helen can continue to live in the UK after Brexit.
Following a number of our letters, threatening legal actions, the Government updated their guidance, but this is still not enough. The new guidance does not specify under what power or duty Local Authorities are supposed to step in, what is the proper mechanism to assist such individuals, and importantly, with what resources assistance should be provided. It is a painfully obvious half-measure aimed to provide a facade that the system somehow does not systematically discriminate against those who have mental disabilities.
In June 2016, we voted to leave the European Union. 4 years, 3 prime ministers, and 2 supreme court challenges later, we have now officially left the European Union. Whether jubilant or dismayed, this is a political reality that we all have to accept. The question then is where do we go from here?
We often pride ourselves in how much as a society we have achieved in terms of our awareness of mental health issues. But true awareness and progress lie not only in the way we talk about mental health, but in how we treat those of us who are suffering. Sadly, in our very first act after Brexit, the Government’s message rings clear: those suffering from mental health disabilities are no longer welcome.
Call to Action!
The Hostile Environment will affect all EU citizens not covered by the EU Settlement Scheme from 30th June.
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The Hostile Environment policy does not just affect EU citizens or migrants – it affects all of us and it destroys lives. We demand an end to the Hostile Environment. Support us by singing our Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) Charter.