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Is self-isolation proving especially difficult for asylum seekers and refugees?

Prof Cornelius Katona

This document was prepared in response to a question raised by the Metropolitan Police on whether refugees and asylum seekers were struggling to adhere to self-isolation rules. We are concerned that this perception is influenced by racial stereotyping. 

We have outlined the range of responses to government recommendations that we have observed in our client group including factors that have contributed to those behaviors. 

It is our view that our clients are responding in the same range of ways as the UK population as a whole. Their responses differ according to their situation and their level of understanding:

  1. The majority of our clients are adhering strictly to government recommendations regarding social distancing and self-isolation. Indeed, many clients are so anxious and fearful about the situation that they are refusing to leave their accommodation entirely and are suffering from the mental health and practical consequences of extreme isolation.
  2. We have a very few clients who due, to a lack of mental capacity and/or limited language skills do not understand the restrictions being imposed. Within our client group, this is a very small minority.
  3. Some of clients are in extremely inappropriate accommodation for people with their background experience of trauma. This includes individuals who are in accommodation (sometimes even sharing a room with many others) with people who they do not know, and potentially feel threatened by. They may also fear catching Covid-19 from roommates or housemates whose health status and adherence to guidelines they do not know. Some of our clients are in accommodation that is unclean, damp and has no natural light. Prior to the pandemic many of these clients were able to maintain some degree of mental and physical stability by staying outside their accommodation for long periods of time – often throughout the day and sometimes even during the night. Some of these clients may now be extending the time they are outside their accommodation beyond one hour in order to avoid conflicts in their accommodation and a further breakdown in their own mental health.

It is our view that the above categories broadly reflect the range of responses to the Covid-19 crisis seen in the UK population as a whole. It may however be that when the Metropolitan Police come across some individual asylum seekers or refugees that they have problems with communication leading to a view that this population in behaving in a different way. Our evidence does not support this view. We are concerned that if this view (which represents a degree of racial stereotyping) becomes embedded in police strategy it may well make matters worse.

Click on the download link below to read the full document.