The recent UK Census may have missed migrant communities who fear UK immigration enforcement action, campaigners have warned. Millions of people completed their Census forms across England, Wales and Northern Ireland ahead of the 21 March deadline, with data gathered used to get a snapshot of the UK population.
The data is assessed to determine and inform the government on how public funding should be spent. However, immigrant advocacy groups have warned that some communities risk not being represented in the Census, which is carried out every 10 years.
Advocacy group, Migrants Organise, said that it had been approached by many of its members who say that the Census creates a sense of ‘worry and suspicion’ around potential data sharing.
Reassurance of no data sharing
The chief executive of Migrants Organise, Zrinka Bralo, said: “While the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reassures us that there is no data sharing, the Census does not exist in a vacuum.”
“Every day, migrants and refugees are faced with the government’s hostile environment policy, a policy and practice that embeds UK immigration controls into every aspect of society,” Bralo added.
The group has also raised concerns over migrants being fined £100 if they do not complete the Census form. Bralo said that it is extremely important for communities to be ‘seen, heard and listened to’, but added: “We know many will be left out of the conversation which will, in turn, impact the services that are funded later on.”
A spokesperson for the ONS said: “The safety of people’s information is a top priority, with responses protected by law and kept secure for 100 years.”
Community engagement managers
In an effort to continue reaching communities, the ONS said that it has used the services of 300 community engagement managers and advisers since October 2020.
However, the founder of migrant rights’ group Regularise, Munya Radzi, claimed that the UK government had not done enough to reassure migrant communities about the Census.
Radzi said that there’s a high chance that migrant communities will be absent from the Census, resulting in inaccurate data in regions with a high number of undocumented immigrants.
Mr Radzi said: “Estimates suggest there are 250,000 undocumented children and young people in the UK, so if these numbers aren’t counted, it can have a detrimental impact.”
Similar concerns over data sharing have been raised over COVID-19 vaccinations. The UK government recently announced that no immigration enforcement action would be taken against undocumented immigrants who attend clinics for a coronavirus jab.
However, despite Home Office reassurances, undocumented immigrants are expected to shun the vaccine, which could scupper government plans to stop the spread of the disease.
Migrant communities are wary of using NHS services and participating in the Census for fear of their data being used against them.
The government is currently embroiled in a legal challenge over UK immigration departments being exempt from the Data Protection Act 2018. The exemption allows the Home Office to refuse access to personal data held about individuals if doing so could ‘prejudice the maintenance of effective UK immigration control.’
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