A few weeks ago, the Government announced that undocumented migrants would not be subject to immigration controls whilst receiving the coronavirus vaccine. The Government seemed concerned that undocumented migrants might not be coming forward due to fear of migration controls, and that public clarification on the matter would allay these fears. However we know that such announcements are meaningless for our communities who have been subject to decades of threats and attacks by discriminatory immigration policies, now officially entitled the ‘Hostile Environment’.
Ruth, a Migrants Organise member, said: “Finally the Government has woken up and listened that undocumented migrants are not able to access the Covid vaccine is an invisible public health risk. But this policy should not only be just for the vaccine but for access to medical care all the time. Everyone has a right to access healthcare regardless of their immigration status, and to not have the fear that their information will be shared with the Home Office.”
This is why we launched the #VaccinesForAll campaign, working with the Patients Not Passports campaign network. Our statement has been signed by more than 340 Local Authorities, health institutions, grassroots groups, community centres, migrants’ rights charities, faith groups, and trade unions from across the country.
The #VaccinesForAll campaign calls on the Government to ensure that everyone has access to the coronavirus vaccine, regardless of immigration status, ID or proof of address.
The Vaccines for All Campaign Call:
In order to address the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen public health efforts, the coronavirus vaccine must be safely accessible to everyone, regardless of immigration status, ID or proof of address.
The Government has stated that everyone is able to access the coronavirus vaccine, but in practice, people are being asked for ID, are unable to register with a GP, and are afraid to access services because of longstanding and entrenched barriers to healthcare.
Without further action, the pandemic will continue to have a disproportionate impact on all marginalised groups, including migrant communities, people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness, and BME communities.
We therefore call on the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure the vaccine programme works for everyone, and seeks to address the specific barriers faced by these communities in line with calls from the JCVI.
The Department of Health and Social Care must:
Guarantee a firewall that prevents any patient information gathered by the NHS or Test and Trace being used for the purposes of immigration enforcement.
End all Hostile Environment measures in the NHS, including charging for migrants, to combat the fear and mistrust these policies have created.
Provide specific support to all GP surgeries to register everyone, including undocumented and under-documented migrants and those without secure accommodation, and ensure that all other routes to vaccination are accessible to everyone.
Fund a public information campaign to ensure that communities impacted by the Hostile Environment are aware of their right to access the vaccine and the steps taken above.
The current policy states that access to coronavirus testing and treatment (including the vaccine) is free for everyone, regardless of immigration status. NHS providers have been instructed not to check patients’ eligibility for free NHS care or share patient data with the Home Office when someone is undergoing treatment for coronavirus. The Government has also advised that access to GP services remains available and free to everyone regardless of immigration status, and that lack of proof of address or ID should not prevent someone from registering with the GP.
But we know that people are still struggling to register with a GP and access the vaccine – many of our members are asked for ID or documents that they don’t have, face racism and discrimination when they try to register, or are turned away because of their immigration status, even though this contravenes Government policy. These negative experiences add to years of oppression as a result of Hostile Environment policies, including migrant healthcare charging and sharing patient data with the Home Office. Altogether, these policies have completely eroded trust between migrant communities and the NHS.
We are still asking other organisations and institutions to join the call! We’ve made a short briefing that sets out the evidence in support of the call, and you can direct organisations to www.vaccineforall.co.uk to sign the call, or email email@example.com.