Asylum seekers are people whose request for protection is yet to be processed. International law provides that anyone has a right to seek asylum from persecution. Undocumented migrants are people who have spent many years in the UK, often building strong ties and family life, but still have diminished rights.
This letter comes to you from our Status Now Network signatory, the Kanlungan Filipino Consortium and their partner, the Filipino Domestic Workers Association.
“We salute the invisible workforce of domestic workers and celebrate their contribution to society on this International Domestic Workers day, 16 June 2020.
Yet many domestic workers in the UK, and indeed all over the world, are migrants. They are extremely vulnerable because their visas often tie them to an individual employer. This gives the employer enormous power over them and can expose these workers to violence and sexual abuse. Many of our undocumented workers work in almost slave-like conditions.
At the height of the corona virus pandemic, many domestic workers lost their jobs because their employers were afraid they might “carry” the virus. Many of them who were “live in” were evicted rendered homeless. They were pushed into overcrowded accommodation with friends and relatives. Some contracted the virus and some died. Many of those who kept their jobs were confined with their employers in the lockdown and ended up having to serve their employers day and night.
But also many thousands of these domestic workers, also carers for isolated elderly people, have provided them with vital care during the pandemic thus far. These workers were shown to be literally “lifesavers” for many vulnerable people in our communities:
Allaine (not her real name) came to the UK, on a domestic worker visa in 2017. She looked after a 2 year old twin and 2 other children for a couple from Qatar. They had been badly abusing her both when they were in Quatar, and in the UK. They continued to beat her and verbally abuse her, and often only gave her left overs to eat. They also kept her passport from her.
One day she managed to escape her employers with the help of a neighbour, and she was referred to the National Referral Mechanism -NRM for trafficked people. Allaine was traumatised by the persistent physical and verbal abuse of her employers.
The NRM recognised her as a trafficked person but she still has no decision from the Home Office about her status.
Lucky Khambule, co-ordinator of MASI – Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland, says: “Since the start of the Covid19, MASI has always been critical of the way the Department for Justice and Equality responded in assuring the safety of those seeking asylum and living in direct provision. Currently there are over 60 direct provision centres and emergency hotels accommodating, with about 7,500 asylum seekers in the Ireland. For the past 14 months there has been an increase in the number of new applications and this has made the government accommodate people beyond centres’ capacity.
Fizza Qureshi, CEO of Migrant Rights’ Network: “At a time of an unprecedented public health crisis, we need this government to react with a humane response so no migrant fears accessing healthcare, or any other service they need. MRN along with others urges the UK government to offer legal status to all undocumented migrants, and those awaiting a decision on their immigration claim, and on public health grounds because everyone deserves safety and protection during these difficult times.”
Carla and her husband Cedic, who have been in the UK since 2013, have a 6 months old child. They live in a room in a 7 bedroom house with at least 13 other undocumented workers, one of the rooms is occupied by another family with two children and other residents are health care workers in the NHS.
They work as domestic workers in two different private households.
Cedic looks after an elderly man. Because of the lockdown, they were told by their employers not to report to work anymore and they will not receive any pay. They are very worried because of living with their baby in their cramped accommodation and some of their housemates are exposed to the virus in the hospital.
They are worried about having money for their food and rent. They are also anxious about their families back home in the Philippines, as they are no longer able to send financial support to them.
Carla and Cedic each have children in the Philippines from earlier marriages. They are also both supporting their elderly parents. They fear that if the lockdown lasts a long time they are going to go hungry and their families in the Philippines will also go hungry.
“Now, more than ever, it is imperative to ensure that the most vulnerable of us are protected. Those in immigration limbo are overlooked, unsupported and left to struggle; the COVID 19 pandemic once again shows the fragility of their existence and we call for them to receive the care and attention we all deserve, not just now, but always.
“Although we are glad to see some public policy measures being taken to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on people in deep poverty, we are reminded that it is only on the ground that it is possible to measure that impact and to understand whether policies are actually reaching their intended beneficiaries. Expertise by experience is essential to getting the response right, as demonstrated by this Open Letter.”
“We know that domestic violence has soared but what remains hidden is the violence and exploitation against women seeking asylum, or with no status, who have been left dependant on others for their survival. Women must have the right to stay and an independent income and housing so they can be safe.”
Irene (not her real name) came to the UK in 2013, brought here as his maid by her rich Saudi employer. Her pay was only £200 per month working long hours every day 7 days a week. She looked after 5 children as well as doing all the house- work. She escaped from her employer one day and has stayed in the UK without documentation.
She got a job as a carer for a couple who were both severely ill – the man had a brain tumour and the woman had breast cancer. Irene looked after them for many years until the main died from the tumour.
Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos live in the UK and thousands are employed in frontline health services and care work. Many others, including undocumented workers, have jobs in domestic work, cleaning, hotels and other private sector services.
The COVID19 pandemic is wreaking havoc in our community in the UK. This shrine is to honour all those who have lost their lives, who will be remembered forever.
Members of the Filipino community are invited to contact us if you would like your loved ones to be included in this shrine
Open Letter to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is calling on both governments to create access to health and safety for all. People can sign the petition, just launched, HERE.
The Open Letter, which has been signed by 65 organisations in the UK and Ireland (see ‘Organisation Signatories’ list for updates), says it is imperative that everyone’s basic needs are met during the current Covid-19 pandemic and the only way to ensure this happens is by giving Leave to Remain to all refugees and migrants both inside and outside of the asylum and immigration system.
We call upon the British and Irish States to act immediately so that all undocumented, destitute and migrant people in the legal process in both the UK and Ireland are granted Status Now, as in *Indefinite Leave to Remain. In this way every human, irrespective of their nationality or citizenship can access healthcare, housing, food and the same sources of income from the State as everyone else.