In our 2021 report, published last week, we looked at the impact of the Covid-19 on our work – its impact on us as an organisation and on the people we support throughout the North West. Looking at the period from March 2020-March 2021, we found that the pandemic and lockdowns collided with the Hostile Environment to make life especially difficult for people living with insecure immigration status. People in communities across the North West were left facing poverty, domestic abuse, anxiety and immigration uncertainty.
Home Office decisions became delayed when everything shut down in March 2020, leading to a large backlog. Many people were left in uncertainty and anxiety for months. Those waiting to get status are unable to work or access benefits while waiting. 261 calls to our advice line between March and December 2020 were about Covid-19-related delays.
Emmanuel, who claimed asylum in 2019 and is represented by GMIAU, told us:
When Covid-19 started, I felt very bad mentally, because I was waiting to see if my interview could happen and that day never arrived. I was alone in my house. I don’t have any family or friends in this country, I was very bored, and there were moments when I thought about ending my life.
In June it will be 2 years since I claimed asylum in England. My case continues to be delayed. I still have no idea what is going to happen. I can’t sleep well at night because I think too much. It is very hard. You are waiting for something very important in your life – to also have the right to live as most humans – but you never receive a yes or a no. It is in your mind – how can you be okay?
It is very difficult to ask for asylum in this country. I have been to hospital various times for not sleeping. It’s very difficult for them to understand me because if the person has never had this type of life they are not going to understand. I can’t explain more because it is so sad that a human has this type of life.
The financial problems that many people experienced during the UK lockdowns exposed the government’s safety net as inadequate and inaccessible. But for the people we support, there was no safety net. Our March-December call records found 231 people were facing homelessness or destitution. People like Ifedayo, below, had to wait well over a year for the security of having status and being allowed to work.
Ifedayo applied for leave to remain on the basis of her young daughter.
My case has been open since March 2020, when I applied for my fee waiver. I then applied properly in late May 2020. They only responded in July, saying they needed supporting documents. It’s been over a year now.
It’s not been easy. In October last year, I had Covid. I was ill with my daughter. I could not go out, I couldn’t claim any benefits, I was living on £140 a month. It was really a hell of a thing. Sometimes you need help but the people you call might be at work, so I was just there battling with my daughter.
I’m not working because I’m waiting for my application. It makes me depressed. I don’t know what is going on. They just keep somebody in suspense. I’m always unsure, I have anxiety. I think “what’s going to happen to me?”. I wake up and think “Oh God, I don’t know what’s going to happen today.”
It’s really frustrating. There are so many things I want to do. I lost my grandma back home (in Nigeria). If they’d granted me leave I would have been fine to travel. I want to buy things for my daughter. It’s really really sad. It’s not about the benefits – I could work. My mind would be at peace, the anxiety would stop.
The disproportionate economic impact continued to affect those who were no longer waiting for leave to remain. People with No Recourse to Public Funds as a condition on their immigration status faced a choice between continuing to work and risk contracting the virus, or falling into poverty. Applications to change the NRPF condition could take several months at the beginning of the pandemic, leaving many in desperation.
Relationship breakdown and domestic abuse
For the people we support, immigration status exacerbated the risks they faced from domestic abuse and exploitation, cutting off escape routes or access to support. People who are in the UK on a spouse visa are often terrified to report or flee abuse due to the impact it may have on their immigration status. From March to December 2020, 167 people called our advice line about family or relationship breakdown and 151 about domestic violence or abuse. Many were calling because they had lost their immigration status or they were worried about this happening; several people had been threatened and told their partner would report them to the Home Office.
Some Home Office policies affecting people subjected to immigration control have been in direct opposition to the government’s broader message on public health. They’ve seemed willing to risk the health of people with insecure immigration status and, because we’re all only as safe as our most vulnerable, the health of our communities. We saw this when a Covid outbreak infected half of the people seeking asylum who were housed in Napier Barracks in unsafe conditions.
Joseph, a man we represent, told us in January 2021:
The immigration signing centre want me to report every 2 weeks. The issue is that we are in lockdown – the government announced that we should stay at home. I am worried about going out and catching Covid when I go to the reporting centre. I have a family with small children, of which one is a high risk because he has asthma. My wife works with vulnerable children with mental health for the NHS, and I wouldn’t want to get Covid and put her and the children she works with at risk, including her colleagues. I have been signing on since 2012 and up to this date, so I am not a risk to run away. I’m very afraid for my life and my family’s life.
For more detail on what Emmanuel, Ifedayo, Joseph and many others experienced, download our 2021 Report.