Furaha Asani : A few days ago, journalists from the BBC and Sky News attempted to obtain live interviews with migrants making their way across the English Channel in dhingies. The journalists, safe aboard their own boats, extended microphones over the edge of their boats in the direction of the dhingies. Social media fired up, with many voices speaking both for and against migrants alighting on the British shore. Poll results released around the same time in the United Kingdom showed that nearly half of the respondents had little to no sympathy for migrants who were crossing the channel from France to England.
Mere months ago there was global panic, clearing out shop aisles of food and toiletries and indulging in war rhetoric all in a bid to stay safe and healthy. Covid-19 and its ensuing lockdown gave everyone a taste of instability. Yet the conversation around migration shows reserved empathy with migrants fleeing whatever instability they have left behind.
In this pandemic, for those who have access to healthcare services—and importantly the funds for these services where they are not free—there at least exists the assurance that support is on hand should it be needed. Amongst various marginalized and vulnerable groups, those with immigration hardship often have limited healthcare access for reasons ranging from no funds, to language barriers, and fear of being detained and deported. In the words of Professor Raj Bhopal of the University of Edinburgh, undocumented migrants often live “in the shadows of society, fearful of authority, and with little access to services, which are mostly provided by the voluntary sector.”
Precarious and undocumented migrants and asylum seekers are therefore multiply marginalized within this pandemic: they likely live with trauma from situations they fled from, they face the virus (just like everyone else), they face instability on the shores they land on, and potential anti-immigrant (and in many cases outright racist) sentiments within those lands.