• Categories
  • Category Archives: Migration

    Many migrants, refugees, and people with insecure immigration status in the UK will be particularly at risk during Coronavirus, due to lack of or restricted access to council services, healthcare, and housing.

    JCWI, Migrants Organise, and Medact have put together a short guide for Mutual Aid groups to consider how best to support at risk migrants. Please share this far and wide!


    Some resources and information from the guide

    Docs Not Cops health rights advice

    • Advice from NHS 111, and treatment in a GP surgery or A&E department, are always free
    • There is no charge for examinations or tests to find out if a person has coronavirus.
    • There is no charge for hospital treatment for confirmed coronavirus

    For more information, contact and 

    Doctors of the World

    • Free helpline for healthcare advice to people, regardless of immigration status: 0808 1647 686 from 10am to 12 midday, Monday to Friday
    • Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for patients in 45 languages, produced in partnership with the British Red Cross. Download here:


    Changes to asylum and immigration process during COVID-19

    • Check updates here and here
    •  No Recourse to Public Funds Network have up to date information on changes to NRPF rules during COVID-19 here


    Comments Off on Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK: Guide for Supporting Migrants During Coronavirus

    Today the Mail on Sunday published an article headlined ‘HIV treatment now costs NHS as much as breast cancer – Fears £606m annual bill for sexually transmitted disease is fuelled by flood of foreign health tourists‘.

    The only views to ‘balance’ the diatribe published in the paper and online was a short rebuttal from BHIVA  (British HIV Association) and NAT (National AIDS Trust) as well as a short statement from NHS England on how costs for HIV treatment are actually reducing:

    A spokesman for the BHIVA said: ‘In the UK, new diagnoses of HIV are now falling because of the success of testing and treatment.’

    An NHS England spokesman said the cost of HIV treatment had fallen £28 million from £634 million in 2017/18 to £606 million in 2018/19.

    A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘We’ve seen a decline of almost a third in new HIV diagnoses in the UK in recent years.

    ‘As with all other serious infectious diseases, we do not charge overseas visitors for treatment for HIV as, if left untreated, there is a significant risk to others in this country.’

    Deborah Gold, chief executive of the NAT, said: ‘The concept of health tourism for HIV treatment is an outdated myth.

    ‘It is actually a problem that we have such long average delays, usually years, between migrants’ arrival in the UK and them accessing HIV testing and care.

    ‘Universal availability of HIV treatment is a cornerstone of the response in the UK. Any suggestion this is a poor use of NHS money, or that access to treatment should be limited for anyone, is outrageous. In fact, it is evidence of the NHS at its best: saving lives and preventing ill-health.’

    UK-CAB (the UK Community Advisory Board) responded to the article via this tweet with the following statement:

    “The UK is a world leader in reducing the numbers of new HIV diagnoses and one of only six countries to have already met the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets. This achievement would not have been possible without upscaling HIV testing and providing immediate antiretroviral treatment to all people living with HIV in the UK.

    People with HIV on effective antiretroviral treatment cannot pass the virus on to their sexual partners or to their unborn child during birth and pregnancy. The investment in free HIV treatment for everyone with HIV is fundamental to meeting the Government’s commitment to end new transmissions by 2030.

    Stigmatising information like that reported in today’s Mail on Sunday only serves to hinder the UK’s response to the HIV epidemic. Whilst we have made huge strides in reducing new diagnoses by an incredible 28% between 2015 and 2017, the numbers of people diagnosed late is still too high.

    Late diagnosis not only increases the chances of premature death but also heightens the risk of HIV being unknowingly transmitted to sexual partners. We cannot tolerate attitudes which put people off testing and finding out their HIV status.

    People living with HIV should not be pitted against other patient groups or conditions.

    Access to treatment and care for all people living with HIV ensures that individuals can live well and in good health and also stops transmission of the virus to others. Any insinuation that denying HIV treatment to those without ‘settled’ status would be a benefit to the nation’s public health or NHS budgets is nonsense.”

    Please circulate this as widely as possible.

    1 Comment

    Grenfell laid raw the harsh realities for many living in London today. Many stories unfolded in the aftermath. There was the tale of two cities. The question of worth. The story of inexcusable inequality, and lives cut short by political failings. There was also the story of invisibility and fear. The undocumented migrants who died in the fire, forever anonymous, and the survivors who went into hiding, too scared to seek help.

    I went to Grenfell with the charity Doctors of the world UK, a week after the fire. At Westway, the pop-up relief centre, we enquired who to liaise with and were told to speak to Sheena*, she appeared to be coordinating the medical response. We arranged a meeting, she explained what medical support was currently happening and we discussed the logistics of how our charity could help. At the end of the meeting, I asked what was her position. I had assumed she was from the government, or Public Health England, or at least from the council. She told us she was a filmmaker, lived locally, and had come to help the day after the fire. In the void of any eminence of leadership, she ended up as the unofficial coordinator of the medical response. I was dumbfounded.

    There was no doubt that Sheena* and all the other volunteers at Westway, were doing incredible work to provide their best support for the Grenfell victims. But I couldn’t help ask myself the question; Had it been the neighbouring luxury flats in flames, would the medical relief effort be left to be coordinated by a filmmaker? It just seemed ludicrous.

    In the weeks after the fire, the question I heard repeatedly, how did this happen in the richest borough in London? The question we should have been asking, prior to Grenfell, is why in Kensington borough, is there a 14-year difference in average life expectancy between the richest and the poor? Why, since 2010, did that century-long increase in life expectancy plateau?

    Across the UK lives every day are silently cut short, from austerity, poor housing, deprivation and political decisions. According to DoH own data, in all of their 15 markers, health inequality among rich and poor has widened under the coalition and the Tories (after improving over the previous decade). Grenfell laid it raw. But the squeeze on public finances since 2010 is linked to nearly 120,000 excess deaths in England. Housing is core factor. 100,000s live in squalid, unsafe housing. Research by Shelter found that 48% of families in social housing who reported issues about unsafe conditions felt ignored or were refused help. The health implications of this we will be felt for decades.

    It also became very clear within our first few hours at Westway, that in Grenfell tower there had been many asylum seekers and undocumented migrants residing. Many had since gone into hiding, too scared to seek help or medical care as they feared deportation. A volunteer told me there was a family that had escaped and were worried about their baby’s breathing but was too scared to seek help as they had a teenage son who was undocumented. We were told of an African woman in her 40s, who had fallen down the stairs on escaping the fire. Her partner and relatives were missing, She was experiencing dizziness and memory loss, but was too scared to go to A&E.

    Unfortunately, their fears are not ill-founded. Migrants too scared to access care is not a new story. At the Doctors of the World clinic, regularly see pregnant women, cancer patients, victims of trafficking and abuse, too scared to access mainstream health services. This is due to laws brought in under Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, which uses health care as an anti-immigration tool. The most recent, brought in 2 months before Grenfell, made it a mandatory legal requirement for healthcare staff to refer migrant patients to the home office if they access hospital care.

    Thee were also concerns about visiting the GP surgeries. This is due to a controversial deal the home office has with NHS Digital (that was introduced without the knowledge of NHS staff) allowing the home office to access migrants data held by GP surgeries. The British Medical Association has vehemently opposed this, stating this breach of confidentiality undermines the sacred doctor-patient relationship and will deter the potentially vulnerable from seeking care. In January, after years of us campaigning, the Health Select committee enquired into this data sharing, determining “We are seriously concerned about the way NHS Digital has approached its duty to respect and promote confidentiality”, calling a halt and full review. Yet, the data sharing continues. It appears migrants do not have the right to medical confidentiality as the rest of us.

    It was under these circumstances that Doctors of the World was forced to launch a safe and confidential pop-up clinic near Grenfell Tower, staffed by volunteers, to help survivors who were too afraid to get NHS care. We also had to write Jeremy Hunt, urging him to publicly state that survivors will not have their details shared with the Home Office. It was shameful this needed to be done, in the aftermath of this horrific tragedy. These racial ‘hostile environment’ policies remain in place in the NHS, as highlighted by the Windrush scandal. Encouraging fear around accessing services is a dangerous policy, makes migrants vulnerable, marginalized and invisible.

    Grenfell exposed the human cost of austerity. To give justice to the victims, we need to ask the difficult questions. Do the lives of those on our streets have equal worth? Have our politicians addressed the structural discrimination, classism, and racism that underlaid the tragedy?

    Lessons learnt? I’ll let you answer that.

    *name changed to maintain anonymity

    Dr Sonia Adesara – NHS Doctor and activist

    Tagged | 1 Comment

    On 15 April 2018 Doctors of the World (DOTW) and the National AIDS Trust (NAT) issued a joint statement that called on NHS Digital to immediately stop sharing patient details with Home Office immigration authorities.

    DOTW and NAT believe that sharing confidential patient information with the Home Office will deter vulnerable migrant groups from seeking antenatal care or urgent care for infectious diseases.

    Here is the DOTW statement:

    MPs repeat demand for an end to NHS Digital sharing patient data

    The House of Commons Health & Social Care Committee has, for a second time, called on NHS Digital to immediately stop sharing patient details with the immigration authorities. Expressing deep concern about the Government’s approach to sharing confidential patient information, a report released by the Committee on 15 April stated: ‘we believe that patients’ addresses, collected for the purposes of health and social care, should continue to be regarded as confidential.’

    The report also states the Committee’s lack of confidence in the leadership of NHS Digital, citing the failure of NHS Digital to act independently of Government and its disregard for the underlying ethical implications of this data-sharing.

    Currently, the Home Office receives information about patients from NHS Digital, the body charged with safeguarding patient data. The data is used to trace migrants, which creates a climate of fear where vulnerable people – including pregnant women and those who have been trafficked – are too afraid to access healthcare.

    DOTW (Doctors of the World) UK and NAT (National AIDS Trust) have been campaigning for an end to this practice since it came to light in 2014. Both charities gave evidence in the Health & Social Care Committee’s initial hearing on the issue.

    Lucy Jones, Director of Programmes at DOTW, said: “In our clinic, day in day out, we see the incredibly harmful impact the data-sharing deal has on our patients. It has reached a point where people do not want to give the NHS their contact information out of pure fear. While confidentiality is in such a precarious state, mothers are not accessing the antenatal care they need, public health is put at risk, and we fear this is only going to get worse”.

    “Doctors of the World UK stand with the Health Select and Social Care Committee in opposing this dangerous information-sharing deal between NHS Digital and the Home Office, and are thrilled the Committee has taken such a strong stance. This view is also shared by the British Medical Association[1] and the Royal College of GPs[2]. As a healthcare charity, we believe in the right to healthcare for all. Yet this immoral deal works to scare some of the most vulnerable people in society from seeing a doctor.”

    Deborah Gold, Chief Executive of NAT said: “It is scandalous that our data is being shared and our privacy corroded with less and less justification. As an HIV charity, we understand the importance of treating infectious conditions and limiting the spread of epidemics. When people can’t trust the NHS with their data, that good work is undone and we face a public health risk. There is nothing to be said for this practice, which deters people from accessing healthcare.

    “Data sharing should have been stopped when the Health & Social Care Committee first called for it, and it certainly should stop now they have, for a second time, demanded an end to this short-sighted and unethical practice.”

    Sign our #StopSharing petition to support our NHS Doctors and tell NHS Digital they are NOT Border Guards:



    The Commons Health Select Committee says:

    Dr Sarah Wollaston MP (Chair): NHS Digital are an organisation that the public need to have absolute confidence will respect and understand the ethical principles behind data-sharing [and they] have not shown us at all that this is part of what [they] are considering’.

    Dr Paul Williams, MP for Stockton South and a practicing GP, questioned “what advice would you give to clinicians about what they should inform their patients so that this information is classed “with consent”?’

    Luciana Berger, the MP for Liverpool, Wavertree urged NHS Digital to reconsider, calling the deal ‘a matter of life and death’ for an extremely marginalised and vulnerable patient group. 

    Tagged | Comments Off on NHS Digital still sending patient information to Home Office immigration authorities

    Evidence and policy priorities

    There are stark ethnic inequalities in health: Black Caribbean, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi people have between six and nine fewer years of disability-free life expectancy than do White British people

    Ethnic Minority health

    How do we understand this diversity?

    Making sense of ethnic inequalities in health – The epidemiological method

    ‘Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of disease. The main method of study, particularly for investigating the causes of disease, is to compare populations with different risks of disease. Ethnicity is a variable that is used increasingly to define populations for epidemiological studies.’

    Senior and Bhopal (1994)

    • But this encourages an unreflexive and uncritical use of the concept of ethnicity. Ethnic groups are treated as pre-constituted entities with pre-specified properties, with an emphasis on the different/exotic.
    • Explanations are then ‘read’ from the ethnic and disease categories available in data. The presumed properties of ethnic groups, be they cultural or genetic, become the source of explanation for the disease outcome.
    • Rather, we need an approach that pays attention to the processes that lead to the construction and racialisation of ethnic identities, and how these processes shape life chances – what might be called fundamental causes.

    Ethnicity, social relationships and social structure

    Racial and ethnic groups … are discursive formations, calling into being a language through which differences are accorded social significance, and by which they may be named and explained. What is of importance for social researchers studying race and ethnicity is that such ideas also carry with them material consequences for those who are embraced by them and those who are excluded from them.

    Solomos (1998)

    The ways in which identities are perceived, valued, mobilised and interacted with are shaped by economic, cultural, legal, political and symbolic resources. Important here is how emotions are attached to symbolic resources, emotions around risk, danger, fear and disgust, which then shape the practices of individuals and institutions. ‘Racial life [is] suffused with shared passions, imageries and fantasies’.

    Emirbayer and Desmond 2015

    Racism as the fundamental cause

    • Racism has its origins in ongoing historically determined systems of domination that serve to marginalise groups on the base of phenotypic, cultural or symbolic characteristics, thereby generating a racialised social order.
    • Explanation, then, needs to examine the role of three inter-related dimensions of racism – structural, interpersonal and institutional.
    • Structural racism is reflected in disadvantage in access to economic, physical and social resources. This does not have just material implications, but also cultural and ideological dimensions, material inequality justified through symbolic denigration.
    • Interpersonal racism (ranging from everyday slights, through discrimination, to verbal and physical aggression) is a form of violence/trauma and emphasises the devalued status of both those who are directly targeted and those who have similarly racialised identities, thereby engendering meaningful psychosocial stress.
    • Institutional racism (first coined by Carmichael and Hamilton 1967) is reflected in routine processes and procedures that translate into actions that shape the experiences of racialised groups within these institutions.
    • These disadvantages, accumulating across a life course, are the drivers of ethnic inequalities in health outcomes.
    Ethnic differences in household income

    Ethnic differences in equivalised household income

    Low birth weight by occupational class

    Low birth weight by occupational class

    Standardising for socioeconomic position:

    Standardising for socioeconomic position

    This reflects both the particular economic location of ethnic minority groups and the multi-dimensional nature of the economic and social inequalities they face, meaning that no realistic statistical adjustment can plausibly simulate randomisation.

    Racialised socioeconomic inequalities mean:

    • Lower incomes;
    • Lower status occupations;
    • Poorer employment conditions;
    • Higher rates of unemployment and longer periods of unemployment;
    • Poorer educational outcomes;
    • Concentrated in economically and environmentally depressed areas (but positive effects of ethnic density);
    • Housing tenure;
    • Poorer quality and more overcrowded accommodation.
    • And inequalities that accumulate across the life course and across generations.
    Persisting ethnic inequalities in unemployment

    Persisting ethnic inequalities in unemployment 1991-2001-2011

    Experiences of racism and discrimination:

    • One in eight ethnic minority people experience racial harassment in a year.
    • Repeated racial harassment is a common experience.
    • 25% of ethnic minority people say they are fearful of racial harassment.
    • 20% of ethnic minority people report being refused a job for racial reasons, and almost three-quarters of them say it has happened more than once.
    • 20% of ethnic minority people believe that most employers would refuse somebody a job for racial reasons, only 12% thought no employers would do this.
    • White people freely report their own prejudice:
      • One in four say they are prejudiced against Asian people;
      • One in five say they are prejudiced against Caribbean people.

    Research across outcomes and contexts consistently shows the adverse impact of racism on health (for example, Wallace et al. 2016

    Racism, discrimination and health:

    Changes in levels of racism

    Changes in levels of racism 1993-2009

    Persisting prevalence of racial prejudice

    Persisting prevalence of racial prejudice 1983-2013

    Institutional racism in health services?

    Access to and outcomes of care:

    • No inequalities in access to GP services.
    • No inequalities in outcomes of care for conditions that are largely managed in primary care settings:
      • Hypertension, raised cholesterol and, probably, diabetes.
    • The effect of healthcare systems – a health service with universal access and standardised treatment protocols?
    • Marked inequalities in access to dental services.
    • And marked inequalities in the US insurance based system.
    • And institutional racism evident in some areas:
    • Some inequalities in access to hospital services.
    • Ethnic inequalities in reported levels of satisfaction with care received.
    • And, mental illness and psychiatric services …


    • Racisms are fundamental drivers of observed ethnic inequalities in health.
    • In investigating this, it is important to examine the ways in which structural, interpersonal and institutional racisms operate and constitute one another.
    • Structural conditions of socioeconomic disadvantage and interpersonal experiences of racism both create an increased risk of poor health for ethnic minority people.
    • They also shape encounters with institutions that have policies and practices that lead to unequal outcomes – education, employment, housing, criminal justice, politics, etc., as well as health and social care.
    • Institutional settings represent sites where we see the concentration and mediation of structural forms of disadvantage and interpersonal racism. This is produced via both the unwitting practices and overt agency of individuals operating within particular structural conditions.
    • Institutional racism will take different forms, will operate differently, across institutions with a different focus – for example, the functions of institutions dealing with cancer screening compared with those implementing coercive treatments for severe mental illness.

    Reflecting on Policy

    • There has been little development of policy to specifically address ethnic inequalities in health, only occasional, limited and local intervention, with no real evaluation of the impact of specific or general policy on ethnic inequalities in health.
    • For example, a shocking neglect of ethnic inequality in the Marmot Review – assumption that socioeconomic inequalities are unimportant for ethnic inequalities in health, or that general policies to address questions of equity will also address ethnic inequalities.
    • But not a policy vacuum, there are clear policies around identity, culture, community, segregation and migration, all of which are likely to negatively impact on ethnic inequalities in health.
    • And ethnic minority people have been disproportionately impacted on by public sector retrenchment (austerity measures).
    • In fact, the evidence base strongly suggests that policy development should focus on the social and economic inequalities faced by ethnic minority people.
    • Need short term policies to address economic inequality (tax, employment, welfare, housing, etc.).
    • However, the economic inequalities faced by ethnic minority people cannot be addressed by policies targeted at on average reductions in economic inequalities, because such policies don’t address processes impacting on ethnic minority people – reflected in institutional practices.
    • Example: early years investments, which don’t address the emergence and persistence of racial disadvantage in the education system and labour market.
    • Example: failure of favoured ‘up-stream’ interventions, such as SureStart, to engage with and meet the needs of ethnic minority groups.
    • Example: public sector workers bearing the cost of the recession.
    • Example: rise in part-time work and zero hours contracts.
    • Rather need long-term policies that promote equitable life chances and that address racism and the marginalisation of ethnic minority people – a focus on institutions, including politics and Government, is crucial.

    Institutional reform: an example

    • As an employer, the public sector has the opportunity to provide significant leadership.
    • For example, in 2017 the NHS directly employed 1.2 million people, indirectly many more, so employment practices within the NHS are able to impact on the labour market nationally and regionally.
    • Ethnic minority people are over-represented in the NHS (and public sector) workforce – 22 per cent of NHS staff are not White, compared with 13 per cent of all workers.
    • Discussion around public sector employment has focussed on enhancing efficiency by reducing labour costs, consequently opening up opportunities for private investment.
    • Instead could use this as an opportunity to implement positive and equitable employment practices, setting a standard: employment rights, holidays, sick leave, study leave, maternity leave, job security, job flexibility, guaranteed hours, limits to unpaid overtime, promoting autonomy and control, and, importantly, pension rights.
    • Such changes are likely to mostly benefit those in lower employment grades and more precarious employment conditions – ethnic minority workers.
    • Could also address the marked ethnic inequalities within the public sector workforce – ‘snowy white peaks’ – rethinking institutional structures and practices, and addressihng pay differentials.
    • Reforming institutional cultures – the whiteness of institutions – and addressing discrimination and racism in the workplace.

    This was presented at our conference Public Health Priorities for Labour

    Comments Off on Ethnicity, social inequality and health

    Impact on refugees, people seeking asylum, and other vulnerable groups

    The Government recently proposed to amend a set of rules, known as the ‘NHS Charging Regulations’, which govern how people access healthcare in England, and when they have to pay for it. New regulations were laid before Parliament on 19 July 2017. This briefing explains what changes the new regulations seek to make – with a particular focus on their impact on refugees and people seeking asylum.

    Which NHS services are currently free for everyone?

    • All GP services
    • Family planning services, compulsory mental health care, and treatment for a range of communicable diseases that might pose a public health risk and treatment provided in a sexually transmitted diseases clinic
    • Treatment of a physical or mental condition caused by torture, female genital mutilation, domestic violence or sexual violence when the patient has not travelled to the UK for the purpose of seeking such treatment
    • Accident and Emergency services

    Health services affected by extending charging

    • Health Visiting
    • School Nursing
    • Community Midwifery
    • Community Mental Health Services
    • Termination of Pregnancy services
    • District Nursing
    • Support Groups
    • Advocacy services
    • Specialist services for homeless people and asylum seekers

    Some people in the UK are not entitled to free NHS hospital care. This includes people who are here for short-term visits, undocumented migrants, and some asylum seekers whose claims have been refused. The situation is different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where devolution agreements allow for different healthcare arrangements. There are already processes in place for hospitals to identify and bill patients for their care. The Government has now made new regulations extending NHS charges to community healthcare services, and placing a legal requirement for all hospital departments and all community health services to check every patient’s paperwork and charge up front for healthcare; refusing non-urgent care where a patient cannot pay. These two changes are looked at in more detail below:

    Extending charges into community services

    From August 2017, healthcare charges will be introduced for services provided by all community health organisations in England, except GP surgeries. Any organisation receiving NHS funding will be legally required to check every patient before they receive a service to see whether they should pay for their care and, in some circumstances, patients will be charged for accessing these services. See  full list of exemptions.

    A wide range of health services may be affected (see above for details), including NHS organisations and, as of October, community interest companies and charities. These services are often specifically commissioned to reach marginalised communities and individuals unlikely to seek out NHS care. The introduction of charges undermines the vital role they play in protecting public health and safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. The Government has made multiple commitments to carry out an assessment of the unintended consequences of extending NHS charges on vulnerable people, pregnant women and children4, but this has not happened.
    As we read the regulations, public health services commissioned through Local Authorities, which include public mental health and drug and alcohol services, will also be affected.
    While the regulations do not alter the fact that GP services and Accident and Emergency5 services are currently free to all, the Department of Health have indicated this may be subject to review at a later date.

    Introduction of upfront charging

    From October, every hospital department in England will be legally required to check every patient’s paperwork before treating them, to see whether they are an overseas visitor or undocumented migrant and should be charged for their care. Every patient, British citizen or person under immigration control, will be asked about their residency status and will need to prove they are entitled to free NHS care. Pilots requesting all patients to provide two forms of identity prior to appointments are being carried out in 20 hospital trusts across England. The obligation to check patient paperwork applies to services exempt from charging on public health grounds, such as infectious disease departments and HIV clinics.
    If a patient cannot prove that they are entitled to free care, they will receive an estimated bill for their treatment and will have to pay it in full before they receive any treatment other than that which is ‘urgent’ or ‘immediately necessary’, as defined by doctors on a case-by-case basis.
    The regulations also introduce an obligation on trusts to record that a patient is not entitled to free NHS secondary care against that patient’s NHS number. Both this measure, and up-front charging, were not included in Department of Health’s 2016 consultation on NHS cost recovery and as such have not received public scrutiny.
    These changes have been laid before parliament and will become law without debate unless there is an objection from either House.

    What does this mean for refugees and people seeking asylum?

    Refugees and people seeking asylum are exempt from paying for treatment. However, refused asylum seekers have different entitlements. Those in receipt of some form of statutory support (Home Office Section 4/ Section 95 support or Local Authority support) are entitled to free care. However, in England, refused asylum seekers who are not in receipt of support are currently chargeable for secondary (hospital) care, unless they started their course of treatment prior to being refused or qualify for a treatment based exemption (for example, they are HIV positive). The situation is different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where the devolved governments have seen fit to ensure refused asylum seekers can still receive healthcare for free.
    Under the new regulations, refused asylum seekers would become chargeable for a range of community health services in England, and would also be subject to up-front charging for non-urgent care.
    Even under the current system, it is difficult for health services to accurately identify who is chargeable under the regulations and who is exempt, particularly when the immigration status of individuals regularly changes over time. Those who are most adversely affected are often the most vulnerable, who have little understanding of their rights or ability to advocate for themselves and navigate the NHS, particularly without a translator.

    The result has been that all too often, even those who are exempt from charging – such as refugees and asylum seekers – are wrongly denied or charged for treatment, or deterred from accessing treatment altogether for fear of being charged. We are concerned that new plans to extend the charging mechanisms within the NHS will further deter people seeking refugee protection from accessing the healthcare they need.
    Our key concerns about regulations to extend charging into community care settings, and introduce up-front charging are:

    • Up-front charging and the need to present paperwork proving eligibility for free care will increase barriers to healthcare for refugees, asylum-seekers and other vulnerable groups: There is a risk that healthcare, including lifesaving care, may be withheld from refugees and asylum seekers who are entitled to free care because they do not have easy access to paperwork and passports to prove entitlement. Other vulnerable groups, such as victims of trafficking, homeless people, elderly people, and those living with mental health conditions are also likely to be affected.
    • Preventing hard-to-reach communities from accessing essential services will lead to increased health inequalities: Any NHS funded organisation – including charities – that provides community based services such as termination of pregnancy services and community mental health services, will be legally required to check the eligibility of patients and, in some circumstances, charge patients. These services are often specifically commissioned to reach marginalised communities and individuals unlikely to seek out NHS care. The introduction of charges undermines the vital role they play in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, and will result in increased health inequalities.
    • The extension of charging will have dire consequences for refused asylum seekers: Denying healthcare doesn’t make health problems go away. Due to their experiences in their country of origin, their journey to the UK, and sometimes their experience in the UK asylum system, people seeking asylum often have particular physical and mental health needs. Additionally, the poverty, homelessness and social isolation faced by many refused asylum seekers can exacerbate existing health conditions. With no permission to work in the UK, they are unlikely to have any means of paying for health services, and will be deterred from accessing even those services that are free for public health reasons due to fear of being charged at a later date, or being identified by the Home Office. Both the Welsh and Scottish governments, and Northern Irish Assembly have seen fit to exempt this group from charging.
    • These measures will further undermine public health: Taken together, the extension of charging into community care services, coupled with the likelihood that public health services commissioned through Local Authorities – such as drug and alcohol services – will also be affected by the regulations, mean that access to immunisation programmes, early diagnosis of communicable diseases, and other preventative care programmes which protect us all will be undermined.
    • All this will cost the NHS more money: The Government has not carried out a full and robust assessment of the impact and cost of the new charging regime. The anticipated financial saving for the NHS is small (£200,000 a year), based on little evidence and likely to be overestimated. For example, it is estimated community services face a cost of up to £13.64 per provider per year to cover the retraining of staff and associated administrative costs of implementing the cost recovery programmes, but this fails to properly to take into consideration additional administrative time to check paperwork. In addition, the confusion around eligibility will result in late diagnosis and treatment amongst groups most at risk, with significant long-term costs to the NHS, particularly when considering emergency interventions undertaken after an individual’s health has deteriorated and they require urgent or immediately necessary treatment. A case study from Northern Ireland during the period when migrants were charged for primary and secondary healthcare illustrates this point: An asylum seeker could not get access to an inhaler for her asthma after her asylum application was rejected. She consequently became so ill that she was admitted to the Intensive Care unit at Belfast hospital in November 2012 and had to stay in hospital for five days before being discharged. In her case, the cost of a prescription would have been £12.87, while the cost of a visit to A&E by ambulance and five days in hospital was £1,508.
    • New systems to check patient eligibility will have unintended consequences: As ID checks are carried out on all patients in advance of appointments, and medical professionals are tasked with judging whether treatment is urgent or immediately necessary, patient waiting times are likely to increase, putting the NHS under even greater strain. There is also the risk of racial profiling being used as a means to identify chargeable patients, leading to an increase in health inequalities (a breach of the Secretary of State for Health’s duty to reduce health inequalities under the Health and Social Care Act 2012). The only way to check eligibility for free NHS services which does not contravene equality law is to check everyone. Reviewing every patients’ immigration status will be time consuming, costly to administer and frustrating for both patients and NHS staff. It is difficult to see how repeat eligibility checks can be avoided as service providers will have to ensure that a patient’s residency status in the UK has not changed over time. In Northern Ireland, reviews were carried out every six months, but this was later judged to be unworkable and consequently carried out every 24 months. One of the problems encountered was that the Home Office often failed to confirm people’s immigration status. Furthermore, these checks will place an additional administrative burden on the Home Office, to the detriment of their ability to manage the wider asylum system.


    The regulations should be withdrawn. The government should carry out and make public the results of:

    • an assessment of the impact of extending charges into community services on vulnerable groups, pregnant women and children;
    • an assessment of the impact of upfront charging and checking patient paperwork on access to services, health outcomes and patient waiting times, including an evaluation of the ongoing pilots taking place in hospital trusts;
    • an impact assessment evidencing the proposed regulations do not breach the Secretary of State for Health’s duty to reduce health inequalities under the Health and Social Care Act 2012;
    • a human rights impact assessment on upfront charging;
    • a public consultation on the parts of the regulations not included in the 2016 consultation on NHS cost recovery: upfront charging and recording information against NHS number (consistent identifier);
    • a more robust and thorough assessment of the true costs of introducing these measures.

    On the completion of the above, any regulations to extend charging into new areas of care and / or introduce upfront charges should:

    • exempt all services that protect public health, including drug and alcohol services, community midwifery services, health visiting and school nursing;
    • exempt all services provided by charities or community interest companies;
    • exempt all community mental health services;
    • exempt all abortion providers;
    • exempt asylum seekers whose claims have been refused, as is the situation in Northern Ireland and Scotland;
    • require all decisions to withhold healthcare pending payment to be 1) subject to a second clinical opinion and (2) open to challenge by a patient
    • be accompanied by Department of Health guidance for hospitals and doctors 1) outlining how to implement the regulations in a way that is not discriminatory and does not violate human rights or increase health inequalities and 2) confirming that routine identity documents checks should not be carried out in services where NHS charges do not apply, such as infectious disease services and A&E, or in maternity services.
    1 Comment

    The government is using NHS patients’ personal information for immigration enforcement

    The Home Office, the government department in charge of immigration, has permission to access NHS Digital records of a patient’s last known address, date of birth, GP’s details and the date registered with a GP. They can use this information to trace patients, which can result in patients’ homes being raided, sometimes leading to them being detained and deported.

    Doctors of the World

    Doctors of the World say their toolkit:

    “Is a toolkit for healthcare professionals and GP practices who want to provide confidential and welcoming services for all their patients including refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. This advice complies with NHS England guidance on GP registration and NHS guidance on secondary care. Taking the suggested steps in this guide will also help GP practices demonstrate to the CQC that their service is responsive to patient’s needs.”

    And they add:

    “Deterring refugees, asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and other vulnerable people from getting healthcare has serious health consequences. At Doctors of the World’s clinics, we regularly see pregnant women avoiding antenatal care, as well as cancer sufferers and parents with unwell children who are afraid to see a doctor. Ten per cent of our patients already do not access NHS services because they fear arrest. We fear this will now get worse.

    “Patients who don’t have a GP are more likely to end up going straight to A&E and to leave conditions until they are more advanced and more expensive to treat.

    “And, of course, when more people are treated for illnesses, society becomes healthier for everyone.

    Tagged | Comments Off on Doctors of the World Safe Surgeries Toolkit

    In the past few days, the misleading term ‘Comprehensive Sickness Insurance’ (CSI) has suddenly become a hot topic among EU citizens in the UK. For many of them, as well as their British relatives and friends, this was the first time they have ever heard about CSI. The chilling discovery was that for many years now the CSI has been a requirement for all EU citizens studying in the UK or residing here as self-sufficient persons. Without it, they cannot exercise their treaty rights and acquire permanent residency, which would normally be automatically granted after spending a continuous period of five years in the UK. At the moment, without a valid CSI the years spent in the UK do not count towards PR. Ominously, the current rules – some of which were introduced as recently as February 2017 – seem to give the Home Office the power to deport EU nationals who are not exercising treaty rights.

    The British media scrambled to publish curious assurances that the rules on deportation will not be acted on, and if they were, only selectively. The Independent went as far as quoting an immigration barrister saying that he does not think that “the Home Office is going to enforce this against say, the French wife of a British citizen. I think they’re using it against people they don’t like, like Polish rough sleepers.”  While these speculative news reports were not particularly reassuring, they highlighted a passive acceptance of the arbitrary and demeaning use of regulations.

    The Comprehensive Sickness Insurance is a concern for thousands of EU nationals who, during their period of residence in the UK that would otherwise count towards PR, were at any time either a student, or a self-sufficient person (e.g. carers, stay-at-home spouses, or part-time workers not earning enough to cross a threshold set by the government). This would include cases in which an EU national worked full-time for 4 years and then enrolled at a UK university without having a CSI, thus unwittingly interrupting the 5-year residency rule.

    Permanent Residency card

    Permanent Residency card issued by the Home Office, image by @RochDWlicensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0

    A failure of communication

    It is hard to understand why the fact that the Comprehensive Sickness Insurance is a central requirement for many EU citizens in the UK has surfaced only now. It is indicative of a systematic failure of public communication that so many have learned about it only through confusing posts on social media. Many of the posts spoke of fears of deportation, of not being let back into the UK after holidays abroad, or being separated from British children or spouses at the border once Article 50 is triggered.

    The official governmental channels of communication have done their best to be opaque on the topic of CSI. Also, while the House of Lords and many institutions and individuals, including British citizens living in the EU, have been calling for EU citizens’ rights to reside in the UK to be secured, it is not clear if this would involve any amendments to the CSI requirement. At least up until the time of writing (13 March 2017), the UK government website used the following description for a ‘qualified person’ who could apply for a registration certificate, and ultimately also for PR:

    Fig 1: Information on Permanent Residency on the website (13/03/2017).

    Unfortunately, this information is rather incomplete, and EU nationals acting on it could unknowingly lose their right to acquire PR, and face uncertainty over their legal status.This might have been avoided if only the UK Government website was upfront about who might classify as a ‘qualified person’ (Fig 2):

    Figure 2: Suggested amendments for improving  the website on residency in the UK for EU/EEA nationals

    Information on Comprehensive Sickness Insurance is curiously sparse on the website. CSI is mentioned briefly in the guidance notes and the PR application, documents that very few would have checked before actually beginning their application process. This is particularly unlikely as the website seems to discourage EU nationals from applying for residency certificates:

    Fig. 3: Information on the website suggesting EU nationals do not need to apply for residency certificates

    More broadly, the UK government has been passing laws on CSI without communicating them widely, not even through the organisations directly in contact with EU citizens, such as universities. EU nationals arriving to the UK have not been provided with clear information on the requirement to obtain health insurance in order to secure their rights.

    Not so ‘comprehensive’ after all

    Once an EU citizen somehow finds out about Comprehensive Sickness Insurance, they face another challenge – there does not seem to be a reliable source of information on what private insurance coverage would qualify as CSI in the eyes of the Home Office. Some private insurers advertise CSIs, but state they are not liable if their insurance ends up not meeting requirements. An insurance broker contacted by the author claimed that the Home Office has not issued guidelines on CSI and that they go by what is reported in the media and by their own experience with PR applications.

    The mere fact of having health insurance from another EU country does not necessarily mean an EU citizen has CSI. They should have had a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) issued by another EU member state for every period in which they were a student or self-sufficient person in the UK. However, by being a resident in the UK, some EU citizens may have lost access to healthcare in their country of origin. In a further administrative paradox, relying on an EHIC issued by another EU country for the PR application will only be accepted if one confirms their intent not to live in the UK permanently (see Fig 3).

    Comprehensive Sickness Insurance

    Fig 4: Screenshot from the PR application and a note on CSI requirement.

    It is unclear as to how the Comprehensive Sickness Insurance would relieve the potential burden an EU citizen might pose to the NHS. The PR application only requires one to have a CSI, not to have made use of it. Indeed, people with CSIs can still access GPs and all treatments on the NHS. EU citizens are in many circumstances required or strongly encouraged to register with a GP (including when enrolling at a university). Moreover, private insurers do not cover all treatments (even under the ‘comprehensive’ sickness insurance), often delegating the treatment of chronic conditions to NHS.

    Furthermore, CSI is discriminatory. Contrary to the Immigration Health Surcharge paid by international students in the UK, there is no standardised rate for private CSI for EU nationals. The CSI premiums depend on one’s age, sex, health, and prior conditions, among others. This disadvantages EU nationals who are women, older, have comorbidities or prior health conditions. Even the cheaper options for healthy young adults (c. 30-40£/month) could be difficult to afford.

    Obtaining CSI seems to be a purely administrative, box-ticking task for the PR form, without much real-life relevance or benefit to EU citizens, or to the NHS. In its current form, the CSI confers an unnecessary financial burden and a discriminatory barrier to residency.

    How about the universities?

    It seems that the UK universities were not prepared to offer their EU students (some of whom are their former employees) comprehensive information about Comprehensive Sickness Insurance. In certain cases, they offered false reassurance that EU students do not require health insurance. For example, still in February 2017, the UCL website dedicated to health advice contained the following statement: “If you are an EU/EEA student, […] you may wish to consider private health insurance as well as there can be long waiting times for some NHS services. […]. However, medical insurance is not compulsory and is your decision whether you wish to purchase it or not.” A few days before the publication of this article, a rather unhelpful statement was added: “For EU/EEA students, the information provided above concerning medical insurance is relevant for accessing healthcare during your time as an enrolled student at UCL. More information about comprehensive sickness insurance can be found on the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website.”

    This further testifies to the lack of clear guidelines and bureaucratic chaos surrounding CSI, with few institutions equipped to offer specific guidance even today.

    The author of this article has yet to meet an EU student who knew about the CSI before the issue surfaced in the media in the last weeks. Many still do not know about it. Some websites suggest that some university application forms for EU/EEA nationals ask whether the student holds CSI. However, given the legal implications of not having CSI, it does not seem sufficient to be informing students about it via a box-ticking exercise or a brief mention on application forms. Crucially, the information about CSI should always be contextualised and accompanied by information clarifying that (i) access to the NHS does not count, and (ii) that CSI is required to exercise treaty rights and accumulate residency rights.

    What should have been done about CSI

    The Comprehensive Sickness Insurance regulations have not been implemented effectively, but this could have been avoided. The legality, practicality, and logistics of CSI should have been scrutinised before implementing the rules, and if they were still deemed to be appropriate, then:

    1. The UK government should have been more transparent and vocal about the rules for EU citizens, and particularly CSI.
    2. There should have been procedures in place to ensure that EU citizens planning to come to the UK, and those already residing here, but also British citizens (who might be partners, in-laws, employers, tutors to EU nationals), are appropriately informed.
    3. Information about the CSI requirement should have been disseminated in a useful and non-threatening manner through many channels: at passport controls, via GPs, schools, religious associations, banks, TV and radio stations, unions, as well as universities (emails to EU students and their supervisors/tutors, at orientation days, freshers’ weeks, special inductions). Such an information campaign should have been initiated ahead of the proposed changes to legislation and should have continued ever since.
    4. A simple government website should have been set up with comprehensive information on CSI, listing (a) clear rules as to what cover would qualify for a private CSI, and (b) a list of approved providers. This could also ensure that EU nationals do not fall victim to ‘sham’ offers, or purchase wrong policies.
    5. Universities should have been provided with guidelines on CSI, and so that they could inform EU applicants about the rules, and the implications, e.g. that they may be losing their residency rights if they start degrees without being covered by CSI.
    6. The EU citizens should be provided with means to acquire CSI in time, including ‘buffer periods’ to accommodate a change in circumstances.
    7. EU citizens should be able to make direct contributions to the NHS fund, if they wish to, rather than private insurers, with the rates standardised.

    Challenging the CSI requirement

    The current regulations and procedures surrounding the Comprehensive Sickness Insurance requirement put EU citizens in the UK at a disadvantage when they apply for residency. Not surprisingly, CSI has been considered unlawful by some lawyers, and has been challenged in UK courts already, but with no success. Several petitions and MPs have also called for abolishing the rule. EU Rights Clinic tries to put a new case together and calls for stories on PR being denied due to lack of CSI. The time is also high for UK universities to join their plea to protect the rights of their current and former students.

    Abolishing the CSI requirements altogether, and especially for PR applications, seems the only reasonable course of action. However, abolishing the CSI itself will not be meaningful without further securing EU nationals’ rights in the UK post-Brexit.

    This article first appeared on the LSE Brexit blog

    Tagged | Comments Off on Comprehensive Sickness Insurance – the legal loophole you have never heard of

    The National AIDS Trust (NAT) is the UK’s leading charity dedicated to transforming society’s response to HIV. NAT provide fresh thinking, expertise and practical resources. They champion the rights of people living with HIV and campaign for change.

    On Wednesday, January 25, 2017 NAT issued the following Press Release:

    Yusef Azad, Director of Strategy, said: “We strongly disagree with the decision by the NHS to hand over patient information to the Home Office immigration authorities. Patient confidentiality is one of the cornerstones of an ethical and effective healthcare system.

    “We are especially worried at the impact on trust in the NHS among migrants. They include people who have been tortured, or trafficked, people who have serious communicable diseases, people who have vulnerable dependents including children. The migrants affected by these measures retain the right to access a wide range of NHS services perfectly lawfully. They should have assurance of the same confidentiality rights as anyone else.

    “A significant proportion of people with HIV in England are migrants. This sharing of information with the Home Office could well undermine HIV testing and care, and poses a risk both to individuals and to public health. We call on NHS Digital to suspend this service to the Home Office and consult properly on these proposals.”

    On Feb. 10, 2017 BuzzFeedNews carried a story entitled: Ministers accused of “Out-Trumping” Trump:

    “The NHS is now required to hand the Home Office the addresses of people it suspects of being in the country illegally under a new policy that has led to the government being accused of “out-Trumping Donald Trump”.

    You can read the whole story here:


    Tagged | 1 Comment

    The Tories must not use Brexit to harm the NHS

    Our national health service relies on the skills and dedication of workers from all over the world. If you have ever been treated for an injury, have had your life saved or given birth on the NHS, it is likely that an overseas worker will have helped. It is the United Nations of healthcare.

    That is why so many across the country are concerned about the impact of this Government’s approach to immigration. We know that Theresa May has chosen to prioritise immigration over trade in Brexit negotiations, no matter the impact on the economy, British business, public finances or working people’s living standards. What is less clear is the impact this will have on the NHS’ ability to meet patients’ needs.

    The Government has repeatedly suggested that they will introduce a work permit scheme for EU nationals after we leave. They have said they want to achieve a largescale reduction in overseas workers in the NHS. And they have also doubled down on their arbitrary and extreme target to reduce net immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Achieving these ambitions will undoubtedly mean a significant reduction in the numbers of EU nationals working in the UK, and could therefore target those in the NHS, which currently stands at nearly 60,000 staff.

    The contribution of EU nationals to our healthcare system is immense. There are over 10,000 doctors, over 20,000 nurses and over 1,000 midwives. We should welcome and celebrate their contribution and recognise it as part of our national fabric. Liam Fox, however, has shamefully said that EU nationals here in the UK were “cards” in forthcoming EU negotiations, but no-one should be a pawn for ministers to trade away. I therefore support calls for all EU nationals that are already here have their rights protected – including those working in the NHS.

    Now, however, ministers must go further and commit to allowing the NHS to continue to be able to freely hire European workers to fill posts in the years ahead after we officially leave the EU. The NHS should not be hamstrung by any future work permits scheme. There should be no change in the NHS’ ability to hire EU nationals after Brexit.

    The NHS needs the skills of EU medical staff. If current capability to embrace these skills is hindered as a consequences of a flawed future immigration policy our healthcare system will be weaker. This would be a betrayal of all who rely on the many millions who rely on the NHS, but also the Leave voters who voted to make the NHS stronger.

    It is true that the Government’s mishandling of healthcare since 2010 means the need for overseas talent is greater than ever, but this campaign should not be a partisan issue. MPs and campaigners from all sides should get behind a strong NHS based on the skills we need and a Brexit settlement that protects our public services. That’s why I’m pleased to be supporting the cross-party Open Britain campaign, which is leading the charge on these vital issues. They are working with leading Royal Colleges and health experts, as well as politicians, to ensure the Government’s post-Brexit immigration crackdown does not harm the NHS.

    Our response to the referendum should be fair and proportionate. We don’t want to harm the economy or give succour to immigration scare stories that are without foundation. Indeed, I start from a position where I believe immigration is essential for our economy and makes our society more vibrant and innovative. Any reforms need to ensure people’s concerns are met but also that the benefits of migration are not lost. One of those is a strong NHS.

    This was first published on Labour List

    Tagged | Comments Off on Ignore Liam Fox’s shameful migrant workers claim

    Migrants’ free access to the NHS and the perceived health care costs associated with it have generated much debate in the UK and even resulted in the introduction of a fee for certain non-EU citizens. Some politicians have blamed migration for the increase in waiting times, particularly in A&E.

    In order to inform this heated debate we have started a new project at the University of Oxford, investigating the relationship between immigration and the NHS. Our first paper investigates the link between immigration into an area and waiting times for A&E, outpatients (referrals) and elective care (pre-arranged, non-emergency care, including scheduled operations).

    Using data from 141 local authorities in England, merged with administrative information drawn from the Hospital Episode Statistics (2003-2012), we found no evidence that immigration increases waiting times in A&E and elective care. In fact, we found that higher immigration in an area actually reduces waiting times for outpatients there. On average, a 10 percentage point increase in the share of migrants living in a local authority would reduce waiting times by slightly more than 9 days. Using previous estimates of patients’ willingness to pay for a reduction in waiting times, we estimate that a 10 days reduction in waiting time would be equivalent to a person receiving about £38 in 2013 prices.

    The “healthy migrant effect” and UK-born mobility

    We look at two alternative explanations for our results. First, we confirm findings from previous research which suggest that migrants are younger and healthier than UK-born individuals, which in turn suggests a smaller impact on the demand for healthcare. Migrants in England are also 8 percentage points less likely to report a long-term health problem than their UK-born counterparts. By using data from the Understanding Society survey we also show that migrants’ likelihood of using hospital services is not statistically different from the UK-born. Moreover, recent migrants (i.e. those who came after 2000) are significantly less likely to use hospital services compared to the UK-born.

    Second, we find that higher levels of immigration increase the likelihood of UK-born individuals moving from that area, a conclusion that has also been supported in previous studies. This means the effects of immigration on the demand for health care services are dispersed throughout the country via internal migration.

    Evidence for the period immediately following the EU enlargement

    We test the robustness of the results by including data up to 2007, to focus on the years immediately following the 2004 EU enlargement. The enlargement induced a sharp increase in the number of recent migrants and it could have affected waiting times, at least temporarily. Our overall results are not affected by this change. Immigration has a statistically significant negative effect on waiting times for the period 2003-2007.

    We also explored geographical differences on the impact of immigration on waiting times during this period. We explored two possibilities in this regard. First, we exclude London from the analysis. The exclusion of London results in an insignificant effect of immigration on outpatient waiting times for 2003-2007.

    As a second possibility, we analyse differences in our results by level of deprivation of the area, and find that immigration increased waiting times for outpatient referrals in deprived areas outside London during this period. The effect for deprived areas is not significant for the whole 2003-2012 period, but only for the period immediately following the EU enlargement (i.e. 2003-2007).

    Immigration not to be blamed in most cases, but location and time matters

    The ultimate effect of immigration on NHS waiting times in a specific area depends on the characteristics of that area. For most areas, immigration has no overall impact on waiting times for A&E and elective care, and leads to a reduction in waiting times for outpatients. Yet, this is not true of every single area every single period. Policymakers should take these differences in impact across areas and time into account when creating policies to reduce NHS waiting times and/or manage the consequences of immigration.

    It is worth noting that because of its demographic composition, immigration may have a greater impact on maternity services. Effects could also change in the long-run as migrants become older. In particular, as low-skilled immigrants are more likely to work riskier jobs, morbidity in this group may increase in the long-run. Our project is currently looking at these two aspects.

    This article by Osea Giuntella, Catia Nicodemo and Carlos Vargas-Silva was first published on the British Politics and Policy blog

    Tagged | Comments Off on Immigration may reduce the time you wait to see the doctor

    Refugees in Calais speak of desperate conditions

    As the sun sets on Calais, a new barbed wire fence glints in the evening light, casting a shadow over the growing migrant camp known as the “New Jungle”.

    Through the thick undergrowth of what was once an industrial dumping ground, tents and tarpaulin structures stretch into the distance. These are the makeshift homes currently providing insufficient shelter from the elements for more than 3,000 refugees. On the other side of the fence, cars and lorries trundle towards the port of Calais – and the northern edge of the Schengen Area, where people can move freely across much of Europe.

    With Operation Stack in full force, and the British prime minister, David Cameron, expressing “every sympathy with holidaymakers”, the body count at Calais quietly continues to rise. A migrant died on July 28 as he tried to reach the UK. He was the ninth person to lose his life to the Calais-Dover gauntlet between June and July.

    One of hundreds of informal structures built in the New Jungle in Calais. 

    Cameron has pledged that the UK government will do everything it can to deal with this situation, but sitting in the detritus of the Calais camp, it is clear that the real crisis is humanitarian and is being fatally overlooked.

    We have made two visits to Calais, spending several days at a time interviewing the camp’s residents. Our research is revealing the desperate conditions in which they are living. It is time the UK and French governments took responsibility for a shared issue. So far, all migrants are being given is more barbed wire.

    Life in Calais

    “When I first got to the Jungle, I thought to myself: ‘is this really Europe?’” said Ilyas, a Sudanese migrant whose family were murdered byJanjaweed militia.

    He showed us the rudimentary “kitchen” he uses to cook – a dusty tent propped up with branches, with no place to safely store food. Like many, he had taken the hard route to Europe, through the Sahara desert – where three of his fellow passengers perished – and then the equally deadly boat journey across the Mediterranean.

    Ilyas’s friend showed us a shaky video he made on his phone of his eight-day sea crossing, this time from Egypt: “We did not have any water for three days,” he explained, flicking through his phone to show happier images of friends and family in the country he was forced to leave.

    Their troubles did not end when they reached European soil. Migrants we met in Calais who landed on Italian shores report being abandoned by authorities. Young and able men, in particular, are kept in camps for no longer than a few days; many end up homeless and hungry on the streets of Italy. As Italian agencies struggle to cope with the record numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, some report being explicitly told to travel to northern European countries such as France, Germany and the UK. Others say they have even been shown a map.

    So a small minority of the 137,000 migrants who have arrived in Europe so far this year have ended up in Calais. The New Jungle – less than one square kilometre in area – is where thousands of migrants live in appalling conditions that would not meet any humanitarian standards.

    A resident of the camp cleans his hands with water from a chemical container. 

    Toilet facilities are limited. There are two dozen portaloos and a few wooden toilet blocks with no handwashing facilities. Piles of rubbish attract rats and other pests. There is only access to cold water, often at some distance from the ad hoc living spaces. It is unsurprising then that many residents told us they are suffering from fevers, stomach pains and diarrhoea.

    Some residents of the camp use chemical containers to transport water to their tents – and every morning, men, women and children as young as ten can be seen queuing for hours for a rare opportunity to gain access to a shower. At every turn, migrants can be seen limping and bedraggled, visibly injured by the increasing risks they are taking to enter the UK. Others say they are victims of police brutality and local thugs. Médecins du Monde is doing excellent work in the camp, but the scale of injury and illness is increasing.

    A global crisis

    Calais is undoubtedly a humanitarian and public health crisis. Yet it is only a microcosm of the migration crisis as a whole. In the world today, a population the size of Italy has been forced from their homes, putting global numbers of refugees at a level not seen since the end of World War II.

    A resident of the camp fills his water bottle at one of the five water points recently installed in the camp. 

    Developing countries – not European nations – host most of them. Turkey alone gives refuge to 1.7m refugees from Syria. The next five countries hosting the largest numbers of refugees are Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan.

    On the northern edge of the New Jungle, a huge bunker looms over the people queuing for a shower. Built during World War II to protect Hitler from invasion, it reminds us that this is not the first time Calais has been on the frontline of efforts to keep out perceived existential threats.

    Britain’s home secretary, Theresa May, has pledged to spend another £7m to reinforce Fortress Calais with more barbed wire – and an archipelago of migrant camps is spreading across the continent. For her, and for the British government, this is a security threat. Spending time with the residents of the Calais camp however, things look starkly different. It’s time to wake up to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the heart of Europe.

    This article is a joint effort by  and .  It first appeared on the Conversation

    Tagged , | Comments Off on Is this Europe?