COVID-19 policies must include undocumented people | Migration

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In July 2021, the European Union implemented a COVID-19 vaccination certificate mandate for intra-EU travel. Subsequently, a growing number of countries across Europe adopted COVID-19 certificates as a pass giving access to a multitude of spaces and services.

These measures are justified as a tool to boost vaccination, limit the spread of infection and ultimately lift restrictions on travel, movement and gatherings.

But they also create a real risk of deepening mistrust and exclusion of undocumented people, while failing to address the underlying reasons for the disparate vaccination. Equally worrying, the strengthening of policing that inevitably accompanies the increasing use of certificates is likely to push undocumented migrants further to the margins.

Barriers to accessing COVID-19 vaccines

For people living in Europe without regular status, enrolling in COVID-19 vaccines is itself a challenge. To buy a vaccine, authorities usually require a social security number or national ID, which undocumented people likely do not have. Some countries, like Hungary, require proof of personal address, which can be difficult to obtain for undocumented migrants.

Even when they can in principle be vaccinated, for example because reservation systems are more flexible – as is the case in Portugal or France – in many countries, such as Poland, the authorities do not guarantee that medical staff would not inform police of the status of undocumented migrants when they receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Another critical hurdle is the lack of clarity in most EU member states as to whether undocumented people are eligible for the vaccine in the first place, and if so, how they can get it.

The nonprofit Lighthouse Reports newsroom found that at least nine countries in Europe have vague policies regarding immunization rights for undocumented migrants.

Barriers to accessing COVID-19 certificates

For people without papers, even getting the vaccine does not guarantee that they will get a digital COVID-19 certificate. A barrier may be limited access to digital technology, as some undocumented people may not have devices with an internet connection or be able to navigate online systems for recording immunizations, especially where no effort has been made to translate them.

The health databases themselves in some cases restrict the ability of undocumented people to obtain digital certificates. In Italy, the code issued to undocumented migrants to obtain health care is not always recognized by the Ministry of Health as valid for obtaining the country’s “Green Pass”, which is now necessary to access health care. Most public spaces and services – including workplaces and public transport (the application of the “Green Pass” in public transport is done through random police checks). The inability to obtain a pass therefore has enormous consequences for almost every aspect of a person’s life.

Concerns over data protection and immigration controls also deter undocumented people from registering for the certificate. In the Czech Republic, for example, it is still not clear whether the data submitted when applying for a certificate would be passed on to the immigration authorities. Even when clear safeguards are in place, data security breaches – as in Germany recently – can fuel existing fears and deter people from obtaining the certificate.

COVID-19 Certificates and Police Increase

Beyond accessibility issues, the increased policing of certain spaces linked to COVID-19 certificates – by law enforcement, security agents and various other actors – creates a risk of increased exclusion and discrimination. In Austria, for example, the government is increasing random certificate checks by police in public spaces, which civil society says will go hand in hand with identity checks – with associated fears of immigration consequences. for the undocumented.

Some public health experts are also concerned that an increase in policing will further encourage vaccine reluctance among marginalized groups. It has already been established that pre-existing inequalities affect certain ethnic groups and low-income people and have an effect on immunization. A recent study in the UK shows that vaccination certificates make certain groups, including British black communities and non-English speakers, less likely to be vaccinated.

For undocumented migrants, these underlying inequalities are compounded by barriers to vaccine registration, mistrust of authorities, and the risks of immigration enforcement – not to mention, in most countries, of a long-standing exclusion from national health systems due to their immigration status. COVID-19 certificates restrict the basic rights of undocumented people without actually addressing the factors that compromise their access to vaccines.

We know what might work to reduce vaccination rates among certain marginalized groups and it is not more of the police. It invests resources and efforts in a targeted approach that reaches these groups, including undocumented migrants, and partners with local organizations to develop and implement programs that proactively address the systemic barriers they face. are faced. This includes conveying reliable and clear information about the pandemic, vaccines and their rights, from sources they trust, and taking steps to reassure people that vaccination is completely dissociated from it. enforcement of immigration laws.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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