A DIFFICULT part post 9-11, the New York attacks of 2001, was determining how many victims were undocumented immigrants.
It was a very difficult and personal process. You see, in the Twin Tower chaos, there were living people not seeking emergency treatment. That was a real headache in itself. It was estimated that over 100 of the 2,800 victims of the Manhattan attacks were undocumented.
These were the souls of the people who are often unfairly, if I may say, categorised as ‘illegal immigrants’. In the September 11 case, many families were split by the mean system which knew very well that the undocumented were working including on that particular day of the attacks.
The US authorities did not have the decency to investigate complaints by families and friends that there were many people who died there but could not be officially identified because of their immigration status. They remained illegal till they died. Most of their relatives and friends would not step forward and request a death certificate from the government. The undocumented died a second death just like that – but only because those who knew them were afraid to come forward remaining beneath the surface not wishing to be identified or deported.
I think this is what we also have in the coronavirus emergency. There are people living here in Ireland and the United Kingdom who may be exposed to this deadly virus and are afraid to access emergency treatment. I do think that if there is any person within this category, they should think about their health first and immigration status later.
Why do I say this? The Home Office has been for years implementing its ‘hostile environment’ of time-limited visas and other strict policies which have serious consequences now for those whose visas have run out or are about to end.
This is the real health conundrum in terms of migration and the coronavirus emergency. For example, in the current conditions, if someone is an undocumented or so-called ‘illegal immigrant’ who cannot access free NHS service and they have all the Covid-19 symptoms, what help is it going to be to the rest of the population if they are suffering undetected, afraid of the authorities? To be honest, those who fall under this category should also think about it, avail themselves to the Covid-19 protocols if they are not well. They should keep themselves alive by telling the authorities their situation. If they are carrying the disease, if at all, this is my thinking: they must not be afraid to access medical services urgently.
If they are hesitant to get medical services, especially during this difficult time because of coronavirus, but if they have other illnesses, the complication is added here by the fact that many government offices have shut down, including Home Office centres and community-based advocacy groups.
Because of an undocumented status, many Africans here will not be entitled to the emergency social security measures the government has introduced. Some of the undocumented are doing often long hours, dangerous jobs, very low pay and now because of the England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland Covid-19 lockdown, there is no more hope. They may even feel suicidal. It is a lethal cocktail this social isolation for undocumented people, but this a perfect moment that they should take to resolve their legal status in this foreign land.
Only a foolish government will deny an undocumented person the right of testing or treatment of coronavirus. It would be a MAD policy not to afford them help. MAD? Yes, like the madness of the cold war between the West and the East, the Mutually Assured Destruction – MAD. You refuse to give me treatment, you make me illegal by legal means, yes, but I carry all the symptoms. Who wins? Nobody.
Because of an undocumented status many Africans here will not be entitled to the emergency social security measures the government has introduced. Some of the undocumented are doing often long hours, dangerous jobs, very low pay and now because of the England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland Covid-19 lockdown, there is no more hope. They may even feel suicidal. It is a lethal cocktail this social isolation for undocumented people but this a perfect moment that they should take to resolve their legal status in this foreign land.
This position might sound mischievous, but your life and dignity come first. The life and dignity of the rest of the population comes first. Everybody is a winner.
Elly O Odhiambo is a freelance writer living in West Belfast.