Ill will at the heart of this Immigration Bill
22 May, 2020
Leaving hospital, Covid survivor Nancy Jirira singled out staff who had come to help from ‘far away’
THE hypocrisy of our legislators – including Boris Johnson – rings hollow as they clap our front-line NHS heroes in the battle against Covid-19.
Why? Because under the new controversial Immigration Bill now going through the Commons – the first reading was passed by MPs on Monday – immigrants would have to pay a higher “health surcharge” for NHS treatment and earn at least £25,600 a year for the absolute right to be allowed to come here.
Previously, new immigrants were expected to pay a fee of £400 for the right to be treated at a hospital. Under the new Bill it will go up to £624 – a 50 per cent rise.
Is it right that immigrants who want to work here as nurses should have to pay a levy of £624 in case they need NHS treatment?
Is this the way we should treat Africans and Asians, say, from Malaysia or the Philippines, who might not be able to come here under the proposed “Australia points style” system to work in our hospitals if their offered salary as nurses falls below the threshold of £25,600 a year?
Whether they might then be barred would depend on an extra “points” allowance which sounds discretionary – and possibly iffy.
The Australian immigration system is controversial in any case because whatever its points system, immigrants of colour tend to be barred from the country.
The supporters of the Bill present it as a bar to free movement of the low-skilled from the EU. But, in fact, it makes immigration difficult just as much for those who want to come here from outside the EU.
When I was a patient at the London College Hospital last summer I had superb treatment by nurses from Africa and the Philippines – the very sort who are harassed by the immigration authorities, and sometimes forced to leave our shores.
Yet, the backers of the Bill see nothing wrong in making life difficult, if not impossible, for those heroic nurses and hospital staff who have been risking their lives in the deadly battle against the disease – and doing so however uncertain their right to remain here may be come as new immigration laws tighten.
You could say this was a regressive form of colonialism. In the slippage over the years since the 1970s, as one immigration Bill after another has gone through Parliament, under both Tory and Labour administrations, black and brown immigrants have had to face mounting hurdles.
This reached a climax over the Windrush scandal where elderly men and women were hounded and sometimes forced to leave this country where they had lived all their lives. Compensation running into millions of pounds was promised more than two years ago by Theresa May – yet few have received a penny.
In a YouTube show, compered by Lee Jasper a few days ago – yes, the one-time adviser to Ken Livingstone as London mayor, who ran into trouble with the Labour party – a black activist, attached to a church, recalled that in the 1990s when he was first employed at the Home Office he was taken aside by a woman colleague and told the staff did not want to work with him because “he was black”.
Apparently, this statement about remarks made more than 20 years ago has never been challenged or denied by the Home Office.
Such a cloud has hung over the Home Office in recent years that it has been variously described as “dysfunctional”, and, of late, as a department where racialism is said to have become institutionalised. By its own admission, the Home Office has pursued what it called a “hostile environment” against immigrants.
Here in Camden efforts are made to link up with ethnic minorities and, where possible, help them.
A 33-page report on the disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on different communities in Camden is to be presented by the council to the government as part of its inquiry into the puzzling higher death rate from the disease among BAME residents.
The Town Hall report refers to the higher death rates caused by diabetes, hyper tension and heart disease, more common among people born in Africa and South Asia, a factor recognised nationally.
Councillor Abdul Hai
It also traces, in great detail, other problems – low earnings, precarious work, often big extended families of eight or nine living in overcrowded flats making life strained during lockdown, where educating their children, often with shared computers, if any, makes life even more difficult.
There are no facts and figures in the report that make Camden stand out from other parts of London but it gives a picture of the battle needed to reduce inequalities in the borough.
It also sets out the difficulties facing the elderly at risk from the disease and the fact that it is difficult to provide them with information because many do not have computers.
As a result the council has set up a working group under Councillor Abdul Hai, a cabinet member, to “develop early interventions to save lives”.
It is all a far cry from Westminster politics where outsiders, especially those of colour, are often treated with mistrust and suspicion – until they become part of a national strategy to relieve pressure on the NHS, at which point, of course, they are no longer villains but heroes.