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According to data obtained via Freedom of Information (FOI) laws by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), the Home Office continued to carry out UK immigration raids on care homes during the pandemic. The findings have sparked concerns that ministers were pursuing hostile environment policies over protecting public health.
Figures from the FOI request indicate that UK immigration enforcement action was carried out, on average, once every three months between December 2019 and September 2021. According to a report published by The Independent, at least one of those raids was in January, when there was a nationwide lockdown in force.
Out of seven raids carried out during the nearly two-year period, six resulted in arrests, while between one and five led to the apprehended individual being detained. However, the data does not disclose numbers below six.
The chief executive of the Care Workers Charity, Karolina Gerlich, called the raids ‘unacceptable’. “To carry out UK immigration raids in the middle of a global pandemic will have caused yet more unnecessary stress to care providers, while placing the health of vulnerable people at risk,” Gerlich said.
“We don’t believe it’s the right thing to do at any time. We believe there are better systems in place that could be used than raiding care homes. But to do it during COVID, during lockdown and potentially bringing the virus into care homes is very irresponsible and insensitive to the situation,” Gerlich added.
However, the recent figures do represent a drop in the number of UK immigration raids compared with the two years prior to the COVID outbreak, when raids took place at an average of 1.4 per month. Nevertheless, campaigners claim that it’s ‘chilling’ to think that care homes were being raided in the middle of a pandemic.
Home Office insensitivity
Campaigns officer at the JCWI, Mary Atkinson, said: “These are places where elderly people were barred from seeing or hugging loved ones for months on end, and many still have stringent contact rules in place. But apparently the Home Office saw fit to barge into these homes and arrest carers looking after vulnerable people.”
“They reveal a government that is willing to pursue its hostile environment at all costs, instead of prioritising the public’s care and wellbeing,” Atkinson added.
However, the Home Office has said that its immigration officers gave due consideration to establishing contact with the care home providers and work with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and local authorities before carrying out any raids.
Previous FOI data obtained by the JCWI shows that between 2015 and 2019, 190 care homes were subjected to a UK immigration raid. Only 37 care workers were removed from the UK amid those raids, raising questions about the effectiveness of such raids.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The government is tackling illegal immigration and the harm it causes by removing those with no right to be in the UK. Illegal working in the care sector is one of the Home Office’s main illegal working concerns.”
“Protecting vulnerable people is a key part of our responsibility and illegal working in this sector puts vulnerable people at risk by leaving them in the care of individuals whose identity may effectively be unknown,” the spokesperson added.
COVID guidance followed
The Home Office claimed that all COVID guidance was followed when carrying out raids, though given recent revelations about Prime Minister Boris Johnson breaking COVID restrictions at Downing Street, and Home Office officials ‘celebrating’ the launch of a new UK immigration policy during lockdown, there are question marks around those claims.
The Home Office also claimed that raids were only undertaken after ‘careful consideration’ and included conducting visits outside of care homes prior to workers that they were targeting starting their shifts.
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