In an alleged breach of a high court order the Home Office has failed to halt the eviction of asylum seekers during COVID-19 lockdown. The government is warned by trade unions that expiry of visas is forcing out migrant NHS workers amid the second wave of COVID.  Failure by the Home Office to restart resettlement is being critisised by local councils and could force organisations supporting refugees to permanently reduce activity.

On 2 October a high court judge issued a court order instructing the Home Office to halt evictions of rejected asylum seekers during the COVID lockdown over public health concerns. However, according to The Guardian, despite the judge finding no ”justification for continuing with evictions in the circumstances where the harm and risk cannot readily be reversed,” the Home Office has yet to revise the policy of evictions. A 30 year-old woman who had her financial support cut off on 19 October and has been handed an eviction note to leave her property by the Home Office housing subcontractor Mears, stated: ”I have nowhere to go. My friends are asylum seekers and I’m not allowed to stay at their accommodation. I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and have previously made two suicide attempts. I feel like an outcast.”

Trade Unions and NGOs are warning the government that much needed migrant healthcare workers are being forced to leave the UK during the second wave of the COVID pandemic due to the expiring of visas to support the NHS. Further, delays and prohibitive costs have made migrant healthcare workers overstayers which complicates their ability to renew visas. “Treating overseas health and care workers this way is shameful. These staff are on the frontline, caring for the most vulnerable in society. Shutting them out of the visa extension scheme is a shortsighted and dangerous move. With 122,000 vacancies across the sector, ministers shouldn’t be driving key workers out and barring new ones from coming here,” said the Unison assistant general secretary, Christina McAne.

The UK resettlement programme for about 5000 vulnerable people a year, that was suspended by the Home Office on 12 March as a measure related to the COVID pandemic has not been resumed. A letter signed by 16 local council leaders in London are calling on home secretary Priti Patel to take “urgent action” to restart the programme representing the only safe and legal pathway for people in need of protection to avoid any more tragic death on the channel. Referring to resumed resettlement in countries like Spain, France and the US the letter states: “We see no reason as to why our country should lag behind our European neighbours and our ally across the Atlantic. Britain can and should be better than this”. Charities and organisations warn that if local authorities end up axing services due to the delay in arrivals this would force them to reduce capacity potentially permanently damaging their services. “We won’t be able to sustain this situation on a long-term basis. If there’s no cohort of people coming through, then that funding will dry up,” said Director at Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, contracted by local authorities to assist newly arrived refugees under the resettlement scheme, one of many organisations to consider redundancies.

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 Photo: (CC) Jeff Djevdet, February 2016

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.