Coronavirus does not recognise national borders, cultures or ethnicities. Nor does it recognise security walls. It attacks the old and the young, Prime Ministers and homeless people. But it impacts on different groups and communities in different ways. Coronavirus shines a powerful light on inequalities and vulnerabilities under a Tory government more inspired by eugenics than humanitarianism.
In general, migrants and members of BAME communities are more concentrated in low paid, marginal, unsafe work. Many live in more crowded, shared accommodation, so they are less able to self-isolate.
Until last week there were nearly 400 migrants in detention centres in Britain where Coronavirus cases have been reported. Some 350 were eventually released after campaigners won a legal victory, but 39 detainees with more “complex cases” remain locked up.
The Hostile Environment, which the government had committed to easing after the terrible injustices to the Windrush generation were exposed, continues its work. In recent years it has sought to turn certain NHS staff into border control operatives as the Home Office demands data sharing. Campaigning groups among NHS workers, like Patients not Passports, Docs not Cops, and Migrants Organise, are resisting the Hostile Environment in their work sphere.
In response to the Coronavirus crisis, several countries have declared at least a temporary amnesty for undocumented workers, committing to treating them like other residents. Here, undocumented migrants are still charged for non-urgent medical treatments. This deters them from seeking medical help when they really need it and risks them infecting others if they have contracted the virus. The hostility they suffer affects all of us.
Every resource is needed to combat the virus, but one remains untapped: the Hostile Environment prevents asylum seekers and undocumented migrants who are qualified and skilled health workers from working.
When the health crisis eventually subsides we will face an economic recession. We know how racists usually exploit such circumstances to shift the blame from government and big business to minority communities. Here in Islington, British Movement stickers attacking asylum seekers and promoting “Race and Nation” already adorn lamp-posts
Far right conspiracy theorists spread their own contagion about COVID-19 on the internet. Former UKIP leader, Gerard Batten, has targeted the Hungarian Jew, George Soros in tweets about Coronavirus. He asks: “How much money will George Soros make out of it?” My National Education Union (NEU) colleagues reported a worrying rise in anti-Chinese racism in schools before schools were shut down.
On the positive side, though, something remarkable has taken place in recent weeks: waves of solidarity, that ignore artificial divisions, are sweeping through our communities, as mutual aid groups spring up, not least in Islington.
Ultimately, coronavirus attacks one race – the human race. That is how we must fight it. It is no accident that the first five NHS staff fatalities were Thomas Harvey a Caribbean nurse, two Sudanese doctors Adil el-Tayar and Amged al-Hawrani, Nigerian born doctor Alfa Saadu, and a Pakistani doctor, Habib Zaidi. We can honour their memory not only by campaigning for the NHS, but by combating the Hostile Environment and celebrating the fact that migrants and minorities are the backbone of our precious health service.
by David Rosenberg, Political Education Officer, Islington North CLP