The IOM is offering an information service for migrants who may be particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom. Be that because their jobs have disappeared, they can't pay their rent or they find themselves homeless or ill. The information service is currently available in eight languages with one more coming soon.
"We are here to support the many migrants who are facing increased
challenges due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Info on support
in key areas, including housing employment and benefits are available
in many languages," reads a tweet on the IOM UK Twitter feed.
"Almost every aspect of life for people living in the UK has changed," reads a press statement from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). And those changes affect the large migrant and refugee community in the country too.
'Migrants at greater risk in the crisis'
"Migrants livelihoods are often at greater risk in this crisis for several reasons," says Dipti Pardeshi, chief of IOM's UK office. That’s because they are "more likely to be working in sectors most affected by the crisis, such as hospitality and retail." Many also work as carers or in the health sector or as bus drivers, taxi drivers or couriers, which might mean their jobs are still there but they are even more at risk of catching COVID-19 than the general population because they could be more exposed to a greater viral load.
Often, the jobs that migrants do "are likely to be self-employed or in temporary sectors," which means that it's possible they won't have access, or it may be difficult to access the furlough schemes that have been provided by the UK government, which offer to pay up to 80% of an employee’s wages until at least the end of August until a time when their employer can take them back to work again.
An additional risk for migrants, says Pardeshi, is that they tend to be living in rented accommodation, "which puts them at additional risk of eviction if they have lost their income due to the crisis."
There is lots of official information from the UK government about how you can access the job retention schemes mentioned above. However, some migrants have "difficulty navigating the support systems that have been put in place," Pardeshi says. Some may also struggle to access or understand the UK government information. That's why IOM have produced advice in seven different languages to try and overcome this barrier.
'Hardship and destitution'
Some migrants' visa stipulations may prevent them from accessing the social welfare available in the UK. This could mean that migrants are then at "greater risk of hardship and destitution." IOM provides a website and freephone service on the following five subjects: "Health, work, benefits, visas and immigration, housing and homelessness."
The service and what it offers
On the IOM site you can find a "comprehensive overview" listing which government help schemes are available to migrants.
is availabe in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Albanian,
Romanian, Vietnamese and Arabic. Polish is about to be added. The
freephone telephone service is available in any language (0800 464 3380).
Employment and COVID-19
On the topic of employment, the website provides links for migrants if they are not able to work, whether they are an employee or self-employed. It also lists the rights you are entitled to if you are worried about working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is also a section for those who may be working without papers in the UK. In that situation, the IOM writes, it can be difficult to access your rights, if you essentially have no official right to work. However, there are still some things you can do, like visit a Citizens Advice Bureau or talk to Migrants Rights Charities like the Migrants' Rights Network.
Health and COVID-19
There is lots of information on recognizing the symptoms of COVID-19 and getting tested, as well as a list of what those who don’t have papers can do if they fear they may have contracted the virus.
The website reassures migrants without papers that free NHS (National Health Service) treatment is available to everyone and that no immigration checks will be carried out and that treatment and testing for COVID-19 would be free. However, if you were to have a negative test result but still needed treatment for another unrelated illness then you would be charged for that, unless it was another exempt condition like Turburculosis (TB).
The website advises if you are worried about your eligibility for treatment you should check on the Doctors of the World website to see how they might be able to help.
Accommodation and COVID-19
In terms of housing and homelessness, IOM advises that there might be help available to you if you are struggling to pay your rent because your working hours have been reduced due to the restrictions. It says that as of March 29 all landlords in the UK were instructed not to evict anyone for five months. In Scotland this lasts for six months. That means that even if you receive an eviction notice from your landlord during this period, you have a legal right to stay in your home.
If you do become homeless during this period, for whatever reason, or are already living on the streets you should turn to your local authority. All local authorities across the UK "have been instructed to find suitable accommodation for street homeless during the pandemic."
However, they say as soon as the pandemic is over, you will likely be asked to leave whatever emergency accommodation was provided.
There are various phone numbers and websites listed in this section including to an organization called Street Link for those finding themselves homeless in England. Shelter Cymru helps those homeless in Wales and the Simon Community Scotland will help those in Scotland.
Project 17 also helps migrant families who may find themselves homeless during this time.
You can access the free telephone service by dialing this number from within the UK: 0800 464 3380