Queering The Refugee Experience Under COVID-19 In The U.K.

The U.K. Conservative Party under Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that all migrant communities living in Britain will be eligible for receiving coronavirus vaccinations, which are currently being distributed across the country. The government reassured those individuals―regardless of their present citizenship status―that coming forward for the vaccine wouldn’t jeopardize their safety in the U.K. and result in instances of deportation. Legally, migrant communities are entitled to primary healthcare services, including general practice, community pharmacy, as well as dental and optometry services. As the severity of the pandemic became known in February last year, treatment for COVID-19 was incorporated into this list of essential healthcare services.

Earlier this month, a report produced by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) found that 43% of migrants taking part in the survey voiced concern over the government announcement. For nearly half of the participants, fear of becoming deported was a strong barrier in coming forward and receiving the critical treatment. For this percentage, fear that their data would be shared by the National Health Service (NHS) to the Home Office contributed to this rationale. The JCWI research then confirms that the Conservative Party’s years-long hostile environment towards migrant communities is preventing them from utilizing essential healthcare services to protect them from contracting the virus.

It should come as no shock that this experience of fear, anxiety and distress amongst migrant communities in the U.K. is an established, state-sanctioned policy under the Conservative Party. Theresa May’s flagship bill enforced immigration checks before opening a new bank account, issuing a driving license or accessing primary healthcare. That legacy is felt heavily today and has escalated considerably with the government creating extreme responses in its “national security” efforts, including enormous nets to be placed in the Channel preventing refugees from entering the country. For LGBTQI migrant communities in particular, this hostile environment continues to be an extremely difficult and traumatic way of life.

UKLGIG is a U.K.-based charity supporting LGBTQI refugee communities as they seek asylum and navigate the various obstacles that they confront along the way. A UKLGIG service user has described this state-imposed hostile environment as especially driven by Home Secretary Priti Patel. They explained that “Priti Patel’s immigration stance has nothing to do with stopping the trade of trafficking vulnerable people, but more about cultivating hate and intolerance against people like myself who are seeking safety. No one would choose voluntarily to leave everything, everyone they know and loved behind and go through this hostile process of seeking asylum if it wasn’t that their lives are in grave danger.”

These distressing circumstances for LGBQTI refugee communities is terrifying and upsetting. The personal account above emphasizes a humanized and queer experience of the situation. For LGBTQI refugee communities, fear of becoming detained in an immigration centre or being deported back home have potentially life-threatening repercussions. Stepping forward for the coronavirus vaccination is a hugely problematic decision for migrant communities to determine making them even more vulnerable to contracting the virus than everyone else in the U.K. A radically different and more humane approach to immigration policies in the U.K. must be established, particularly during a global pandemic where access to essential healthcare should be available for everyone.