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Social Justice

Campaigners want council action to protect at-risk migrants during pandemic

In the groups’ list of demands is an end to ‘hostile environment’ policies and a ban on authorities sharing information with the Home Office

More than 50 groups fighting for the rights of homeless people and migrants are demanding local authorities do more to support those groups through the Covid-19 crisis.

The Migrants’ Rights Network, the Public Law Interest Centre and dozens of other organisations for vulnerable people – including Big Issue Changemakers the Magpie Project , the3million and the Museum of Homelessness – said unless councils took urgent action, some migrants could struggle to get the care and shelter they need during the public health emergency.

Crucially, the letter to local authorities reads, that means councils must take to central government to demand an end to ‘hostile environment’ policies once and for all.

Despite the ongoing crisis it is still not the case that all migrants can access what they need – like housing assistance and benefits – regardless of immigration status and without worrying about the consequences of flagging themselves to authorities.

Those with no recourse to public funds, like asylum seekers, and homeless migrants are set to face a major struggle if those with the power to act do nothing, the letter said.

In a list of recommendations, the groups urged councils to set up a Covid-19 homelessness taskforce; pay careful attention to the needs of those who are made vulnerable by their lack of English, or women migrants at risk of abuse; make sure everyone can access self-contained accommodation, regardless of income; block-book hotels for rough sleepers and ‘sofa-surfers’; take care of the mental health of looked-after and care-leaver migrants during the outbreak; and end NHS charging for migrants.

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Making changes that would have a material effect would mean ending ‘no recourse to public funds’ conditions, extending visas to cover the pandemic and releasing everyone in detainment centres to stop the virus spreading through their vulnerable populations.

“We are writing to demand that urgent steps be taken by local authorities to protect and support vulnerable migrants, particularly those with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) and those experiencing or at risk of homelessness, during the coronavirus pandemic,” the groups said.

“We urge a speedy response to ensure that all migrants in our community are protected during this current and evolving crisis, regardless of their country of origin or immigration status.”

The groups also made it clear that councils must not share any data collected on migrants with the Home Office or anyone else who plays a part in immigrant enforcement.

The groups urged local authorities to use the £500m hardship fund announced by the government to help councils support economically vulnerable people in their areas.

The Big Issue has contacted the Local Government Association for comment.

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