COVID-19 Policy and Migrants in Scotland

It seems like both forever – and simultaneously no time at all – since Scotland went into lockdown. And though we may now be talking about taking the first tentative steps towards lifting restrictions, the longer the pandemic goes on, the clearer it seems that this is no great leveller.  

At JustRight Scotland, where our clients are often migrants whose insecure immigration status means they struggle to have their rights recognised – this is all too apparent.

That is why we wrote to both the First Minister and the Home Secretary last week calling on them to protect the rights of migrant communities across Scotland as lockdown measures are relaxed.    

Impact of Covid-19 policy on migrants in Scotland

In the letter to Nicola Sturgeon and Priti Patelwe pointed to evidence that migrants in Scotland have already suffered disproportionately in the midst of the Covid-19 turmoil.  We want to do all we can to help protect them from continuing to do so.  

  • Our letter follows the tragic sudden death of a 30-year-old Syrian asylum seeker, found alone in the Glasgow hotel room he had been moved to from his flat, as part of Home Office agreed Covid-19 planning. Friends said he had suffered mental distress weeks and days leading up to his death. It is claimed that he tried to get help, but none was forthcoming. 
  • We also know there are hundreds of asylum seekers still housed in hotels without any financial support, making them extremely vulnerable. They include pregnant women and those who have been trafficked.
  • In our own work we have seen some heartbreaking cases too. We represented one 16-year-old girl who fled domestic abuse in her family but was denied looked after status by the local authority for several weeks, due to confusion over her immigration status. It is understood this was excused, in part, by Covid-19 restrictions on where she could be accommodated.   

Covid-19 restrictions have “exacerbated the deeply entrenched inequalities migrants already face.”

Work by our Just Citizens project – which looks to make the case for social citizenship across Scotland – found migrants from a variety of backgrounds were experiencing disproportionate hardships.   

  • Several other organisations raised fears with us about isolation and impact on mental wellbeing. Many migrant families have very limited access to outdoor space and no digital access to support.  Lots of charities told us they were worried about the effects of poverty on both individuals and families, and how that put them at greater risk.
  • There are concerns too that “social bubbles” – or restricting contact – will be problematic for the most isolated migrants, including those without family or close friends in Scotland. 
  • The Just Citizens team also heard about immigration “catch-22s” facing the most vulnerable EU citizens. Those without smartphones are now struggling to apply for settled status or to access help to do so.
  • Yet without this status, it is harder to pass the habitual residency test, and in some cases means they are unable to access benefits, leaving them destitute or homeless.  

So in our letter we pointed out that the restrictions have “exacerbated the deeply entrenched inequalities and difficulties migrants already face as a consequence of poor policy making and political choices”.    

What next?

We asked that as the Scottish Government reveals exit plans and next steps in the easing of lockdown measures, it fully evaluates the impact for migrants and take steps across all policy areas to protect migrant communities. We are hoping it will push the UK Government to do the same.   

Central to this is a fundamental ask: policy changes being implemented to save lives must not be dependent on an individual’s immigration status. In this, migrant voices should be heard loud and clear.  

At JustRight Scotland we see the inequality faced by migrants, asylum seekers and refugees day in and day out. With Covid-19, the cases we are dealing with, and the stories we are hearing from migrants, are even more harrowing.  

Now must be the time for leaders at Holyrood and Westminster to take long overdue action to tackle the discriminatory treatment of migrants across Scotland, and the rest of the UK.  

We are learning through this crisis that we are interdependent on each other. With that in mind we must remember, if we do not protect migrants now, this failure will ultimately impact on us all 

Jen Ang
Director, JustRight Scotland