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Vaccine passports ‘will force undocumented migrants into the shadows’

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Vaccine passports could have repercussions for people working in the shadow economy according to a leading researcher on migrant issues (Picture: Getty)

Hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrants could be pushed further to the margins of society if plans for vaccine passports become reality, a leading researcher has warned.

The Government’s move to ensure a fuller reopening of society as part of its roadmap out of lockdown has sparked fears that it could force those already living in the shadows further underground.

A task force led by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is working on a plan to introduce a Covid certification scheme that may include a digital system when it takes effect in June at the earliest.

Ministers have ruled out the scheme for essential services such as supermarkets, public transport or GP surgeries, instead focussing on gatherings at festivals, sports events and nightclubs.

However, the planned introduction of the passports, which could be in paper or app form, has raised fears that they may be shunned by marginalised groups who distrust official bodies.

Dr Nando Sigona, of the University of Birmingham, said: ‘A vaccine passport scheme would clearly impact on undocumented migrants.

‘We know that every time bureaucratic requirements increase through checks or access to services, it is this group who are penalised or pushed further to the margins.

‘Even before the pandemic, undocumented migrants had already struggled with vaccinations due to the fact that not everyone is able to register with a GP and they may have a fear of registering with certain institutions.’

Vaccine passports are a work in progress under the Government’s roadmap but could take the form of mobile phone app (Credits: Getty Images)

The review led by Mr Gove is expected to release the findings ahead of its June 21 target date to give businesses time to prepare for the new regime.

An update on Monday stated that ‘even without Government intervention, COVID-status certification is likely to become a feature of our lives’.

Dr Sigona, Professor of Migrant Studies, said: ‘At the moment we don’t know what this vaccine passport is going to look like, there is a broad range of details that could be attached to such a document.

‘A piece of paper is much less dangerous if you are an undocumented migrant because it doesn’t electronically link to other records about yourself.

‘If it’s an app identifying many other details attached to a medical record it is much more intrusive as an instrument.

‘If it’s a name and a date of birth that is one thing but if it wants, for example, an address, it places a greater demand on undocumented migrants.

‘People who are already at the margins may feel like they want to hide from this and it is not only dangerous for them but ultimately for public health in general as they are pushed even further underground.’

People already living in the shadows may be pushed further to the margins of society by the introduction of vaccine passports according to campaigners (Picture: Getty)

An estimated million undocumented migrants live in the UK, according to a report by the US-based Pew Research Centre in 2019, although Dr Sigona says the current figure could be much lower.

The researcher also drew a distinction between different groups of migrants, such as those facing removal from the UK and those who are under the radar and living a twilight existence.

He said: ‘There are differences between undocumented migrants, for example there are a lot of people having been refused asylum applications who are already known to the authorities.

‘They may be awaiting removal or being forced to sign a register at the police station.

‘For those cases you could argue that it would be much less problematic to provide access to vaccine passports.

‘For those who are under the radar, who are not known to the authorities, such as over-stayers and people who are undetected, they will be well aware that if they make themselves more visible to the authorities they will put themselves at greater risk of removal, especially in the current climate of the hostile environment.’

A more widespread use of certification, such as through employers introducing the requirement for workers, would be particularly problematic, Dr Sigona told Metro.co.uk.

He said: ‘We know that vaccine passports could restrict access to public events and they also have the potential to be used in places of work. People who are working informally, for example earning cash-in-hand cleaning cars or in restaurants, would be pushed further to the margins.

‘In general the more you expect people to be visible, traceable and identifiable, the more it clashes with the reality of being an undocumented migrant who is trying to be invisible at the margins of society.’

Professor Nando Sigona says vaccine passports should be weighted against people’s civil liberties in order to be effective (Picture: Dr Nando Sigona)

Privacy group Big Brother Watch, which is campaigning against vaccine passports, has warned in a report that undocumented migrants are ‘fearful of accessing health services due to punitive data sharing’.

The campaign group said that ‘health certificate segregation would only deepen discrimination and alienate people even more’ which would be ‘disastrous for trust in public health authorities’.

A separate campaign has said a Government ‘amnesty’ to encourage undocumented migrants to take up vaccinations does not go far enough.

More than 140 groups united behind a letter saying that immigration policies need to be scaled back in order to remove ‘entrenched’ distrust among marginalised groups.

Dr Sigona cautioned that the scheme should respect civil liberties and not require extensive and interlinked personal data.

‘The data collection requirement has to be weighted against the specific use required,’ he said.

‘You don’t need to have a wide range of information available, just what is essential.

‘The less intrusive it is, the more comfortable people will feel in using it and that will have a greater impact on public health in general because people won’t feel at risk of being deported and it will also mean more people being vaccinated.’

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care referred to the latest roadmap update.

It reads: ‘The Government will continue to explore the equity and ethical concerns bound up with any form of COVID-status certification.

‘The NHS is working on providing individuals with the means to demonstrate their COVID status through a digital and non-digital route, and is working with experts to put security and privacy at the core of this approach.’

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