Published 13th November 2019
In 2012 Theresa May stated her aim “was to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”. The goal was effectively to make life as difficult as possible for any illegal migrant in the UK to continue living in the country.
A year later there was a public outcry when vans drove around the streets of London with slogans reading ‘go home or face arrest’ painted on their sides.
Seven years in, Doctors of the World are still fighting for all Hostile Environment policies to be scrapped. They have weaved their way into all public services and further into society.
In 2015 laws were passed stating that anyone living in the UK as an undocumented migrant had to pay to access non-emergency healthcare. Charges are calculated at 150% of the cost to the NHS, for most conditions payment is expected upfront, and unpaid bills result in personal data being shared with the Home Office.
Following the devastating fire at Grenfell in 2017, volunteers were meeting survivors who were too scared to seek medical care.
A Doctors of the World volunteer, De Zulueta, saw an African woman in her early 40s who had fallen down the stairs while escaping from the tower and whose partner and relatives were missing. The woman was suffering from dizziness and memory loss, symptoms that suggested she could have a brain injury, but she didn’t want to go to A&E.
“She was frightened that she would be reported to the Home Office. I had to persuade her and reassure her, and eventually she went with an escort,” De Zulueta said.
At our clinic in east London our volunteer doctors and nurses provide medical consultations for undocumneted migrants, while our caseworkers help them register to see a GP so that they can see a doctor in the future.
We spend many hours in the clinic persuading people who are very sick or heavily pregnant that the risk of not accessing the healthcare they need outweighs their fears of the Hostile Environment.