Fighting for everyone’s freedoms
The Coronavirus Bill, which is expected to be rushed through Parliament on Monday 23 March, will give the Government emergency powers to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. Unlike normal pieces of legislation that have to pass through multiple stages in both Houses, the emergency bill will go through Parliament with little opportunity for MPs to scrutinise the Government’s actions. A huge point of contagion is the time the legislation might be in force for: the Government estimates that the emergency powers will be in place for two years. Some MPs have called for Parliament to be given the power to review whether the measures are still necessary on a monthly basis. Currently Ministers say that they would be “switched on and off” according to medical advice.
Whilst the content of the bill is less controversial in Westminster, many migrants rights and civil liberty activist groups have raised concerns over potential consequences of the legislation for migrants and people of colour.
Among other things, the bill will give police and immigration officers powers to detain potentially infected people and put them in isolation. Current police powers to stop and search already disproportionately affect BAME and migrant communities.
Many immigrants in Britain are also subject to “no recourse to public funds” policies, which means they cannot access services such as housing benefits. This puts vulnerable migrant groups at a high risk of homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to ensure that vulnerable migrants will not be excluded from the recently announced emergency support fund for rough sleepers during the outbreak. The Ministry for Housing has made the money available to reimburse councils for the cost of providing accommodation and services to people experiencing, or being at risk of, homelessness.
Furthermore, COVID-19 presents a fundamental threat to the lives of people in immigration detention centres, where thousands of people are held in unsanitary conditions who may suffer serious health conditions. Activists groups have called for the immediate release of immigration detainees. Other countries such as Spain have already done so.
Joint letter to the Home Secretary—from Liberty, JCWI, MedAct, and others