Human RightsRecent

The Impact of COVID – 19 Pandemic on Undocumented Migrants in the UK:

By Qasim Swati (United Kingdom)

Also known as illegal immigrants, illegals (as abbreviated by some), illegal aliens and illegal migrants, are people who are in the violation or breach of the immigration laws of the host country either by entering their country of residence illegally (without permission) or their continued residence without their legal right to live in that country. However, there are campaigns for discouraging the use of the term “illegal immigrant” and advocating for the use of such words for foreigners, as unauthorized immigrants or undocumented immigrants instead, like a “Drop the I – Word” campaign, launched in the United States in 2010.

Undocumented migrants either enter the host country illegally without any right of residence or they enter their country of residence legally, but lose their right of residence later on due to their respective personal circumstances and other various factors, which make them illegal in that country.

There is no exact figure to show the actual number of people living illegally in the UK, however, there may have been around 800,000 to 1.2 million unauthorized immigrants with waiting asylum seekers’ as estimated for 2017 by the Pew Research Centre (the Washington-based think-tank with a worldwide reputation for interpreting the trends that shape the modern world).

Besides preventing undocumented migrants from accessing housing facilities, driving licenses and bank accounts, the Immigration Act 2016 of the UK Immigration Rules has also added to the problems of undocumented migrants, as it is illegal, under this Act, for the employers to employ a person who is disqualified from working and someone who is not entitled legally to work, but still working without leave in the United Kingdom.

The vulnerable immigration status of undocumented migrants in the UK make them the victims of modern slavery, including forced labour or labour exposing them to labour exploitation, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation (specifically of undocumented female migrants) and other types of abuse.  The exploitation of such migrants can be found across different sectors in the UK, including car washes, agriculture, construction and various types of factories, like cotton mills, food factories, and such other places. These undocumented migrants are not paid even minimum wage (and in most cases, less than half of the minimum wage). Most of them are having deductions made from their wages, made to live in worse and inhuman conditions, and threatened to be reported to the immigration authorities, in case they do not obey their employers or try to complain against their bosses. Thus, a large number of them are abused and exploited by dishonest and immoral employers in different ways.

According to a report by Migration Watch UK (a think-tank and campaign group arguing for lower immigration into the United Kingdom), an illegal population in the UK adds to the pressures on public services and housing capacity of the country. Nevertheless, most of the illegal migrants or undocumented immigrants try their best to survive by doing some sort of cash-in-hand jobs (payment for goods and services in cash rather than by cheque or other means, typically as a way of avoiding the payment of tax on the amount earned), as they are not allowed to work, under the Immigration Rules.

Apart from surviving by doing such cash-in-hand jobs, most of these undocumented migrants depend on the support and assistance provided by a network of charities (in the form of food parcels, supermarket vouchers, second-hand clothing and survival packages of cooked meals at day centres).

But, unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID – 19 Pandemic, these charities have shut their day centres, which has put the majority of these migrants at the risk of starvation, on one hand. On the other hand, most of the UK businesses have closed since March 23, 2020, as the country is on a lock-down since, in order to fight against the Coronavirus Disease, due to which these migrants are not in any position to find a job and earn some money for their survival, accordingly.

This situation has been described in The Guardian on Sunday, 22 March 2020, by Diane Taylor (a freelance journalist and author, focusing on human rights, civil liberties and racism), titled ‘Million undocumented migrants could go hungry, say charities’: ‘Asylum seekers face surviving without support of network of day centres and food parcels.’

Qasim Swati is a freelance journalist, writer and human rights activist, based in the UK, and can be reached at https://qasimswati.com or mailto:info@qasimswati.com.

 

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