“I’m Sorry, We Can’t Help You” – Hostile Environment and Healthcare
Building a life in a country that desperately wants to kick you out at every turn is extremely stressful at best, and at worst negatively impacts one’s mental and physical health.
After joining JAN Trust, I have started truly taking notice of the very subtle ways in which the hostile environment policies work to exhaust their targets. This has been particularly poignant in attempting to use NHS healthcare services, which I am very lucky and privileged to have access to.
Firstly, you essentially need a British telephone number to access many NHS services. I did not have one, which became a massive issue during lockdown when many in-person appointments were not taking place and I needed medical help. Likewise, early last autumn, the lack of a UK phone number prevented me from getting help with a Covid-19 test (fortunately, this policy has since changed). To get a new UK number without accessing the provider in-store required a pre-existing phone number in the UK. This ultimately created a vicious cycle that I was only able to break free from once lockdown was lifted and I could sort things out in person.
Obviously, this is an example of a very subtle way of making life rather difficult for migrants and not an example of the full force of the hostile environment policy. As an immigrant from the EU, I am of course impacted by Brexit, but still benefit from the many privileges of my nationality and ethnicity. If my experience is at the easiest possible end, how difficult is it to access healthcare when you are being overtly discriminated against, do not have identification papers, and face the threat of deportation each time you are in contact with an official body? For me, being stuck in a bureaucratic circle with a limited understanding of how the British system works was not only confusing and frustrating but also seriously delayed me getting the medical help that I very much needed and should be eligible for. Of course, the individual members of the NHS that I was in contact with, certainly greatly strained by the pandemic, are not to blame here — we must look at immigration policy.
Even if I wasn’t eligible to use NHS services, your access to medical help should absolutely not depend on your nationality. Hostile environment policies aim to make life so difficult for illegal migrants that they will voluntarily leave. It is incredibly unethical to prevent people from accessing healthcare, no matter what their immigration status. At worst, these complex guidelines for weeding out illegal migrants are lethal. In a mental health crisis for instance, it cannot feel appealing to call a crisis team should that risk your deportation; if anything, it probably makes your mental health worse. Indeed, mental health services, in particular, are incredibly difficult to access if you are an immigrant.
JAN Trust provides advice regarding questions about immigration, housing and more. Services like these are necessary when the rest of society is built to make life as difficult as possible for human beings with the wrong passport (or no passport). We would like to see a world where a human’s worth is not determined by xenophobic standards, fuelled by incredibly normalised anti-immigrant hate speech in the media. One step toward that world would be accessible, non-discriminatory healthcare.