Multiple Realities of Covid-19: Experiences of Glasgow’s Migrant Women
Date Posted: Friday 29th May 2020
Blog by Eliska Bujokova for our ECN 'Women and the Economy' series
In this new installment of our Women and the Economy blog series, Eliska Bujokova talks about the challenges that asylum-seeking women in Glasgow are facing during the current pandemic.
Whilst the impact of the Covid-19 crisis and the resulting inequalities have been examined from many viewpoints, female migrants and asylum seekers in Britain remain largely invisibilized. Yet this group falls amongst the most vulnerable, during crises or not. Migrant workers and especially women are disproportionately represented amongst frontline staff in medical facilities as well as social services, which makes them more vulnerable to contagion. However, as Maya Goodfellow points out, the virus is not the only danger, as migrants with limited resources face isolation, destitution and starvation. With the help of Sara Al-Rubaya from the Govan Community Project (GCP), I have reached out to refugee women living in Glasgow in the hope to localize the enquiry and shed some light on the startlingly different realities of the current crisis experienced by women in my own city.
Before I start writing this article, I scroll through the GCP Twitter page and sign my name on the Refugee Action petition to the Home Office joined by the GCP. The petition demands an addition of 20 pounds a week to asylum seekers based on the same addition having been made early on in the crises to Universal Credit claimants, thus exposing the double standards in the assessment of poverty applied by authorities. In the case of asylum seekers, an addition to the mere 37 pounds a week they are forced to live on, with no right to work or seek additional support under the No Recourse to Public Funds clause that stays firmly in place, despite the pressing crisis.
Alongside financial difficulties, local refugee women face the pressure of singlehandedly tackling childcare responsibilities heightened as they self-isolate with their children and lose access to support networks of friends and local communities, explains Sara. Whilst most struggle with the increased need to provide food for their families, they are forced to rely on food bank deliveries and vouchers as regular running of these institutions has been disrupted. Even though in self-isolation, many council housing residents are forced to move as the city council tries to tackle the housing shortage, which has become ever more pressing during this crisis. Being amongst the most disadvantaged of the welfare dependents; these women have little choice in such situations.
Sara asks Maryam (not a real name), a member of the GCP women’s group, local asylum seeker and a single mother of three how is she managing. As a result of financial struggles heightened by the increased food provision responsibilities as her children are out of school and unable to claim free meals, Maryam depends on her community and religious groups for help. With the limited amount of government sanctioned trips to buy food and no access to childcare, she struggles with the seemingly simple tasks of food shopping, habitually her only time to unwind from the stress of the asylum seeking process, round the clock childcare and the pressure of extremely limited resources. With her limited knowledge of English, she is unable to help her children with homework or seek medical help for her asthmatic son, who is especially vulnerable to the virus. And yet, she manages to find a silver lining in the fact that her case was put on hold by the Home Office. As little support as it sounds, Maryam finds relief in not having to fear detention or removal for a while.
Similarly to Maryam’s children, another single mum Lisa (not a real name) is also tackling the issue of limited access to resources to help maintain her children’s studies. As a college student, she has been forced to transition to online learning as were her children. With sharing one laptop between the family members, this has been difficult, as splitting the time between all of them does not allow for completing their assignments. Compared to many families amongst Scottish migrants and asylum seekers, however, Lisa is lucky to have at least one device to access needed materials. As Liam Kirkaldy observes, many children lack any access to electronic devices despite the expectation to follow online learning and about 60 asylum-seeking families in Scotland lack access to the Internet altogether. With little support from schools or the government these children are at risk of isolation from already sparse support networks and extended families. They lose access to education rights and face falling behind in school. Apart from the efforts from local charities, they receive minimal support whilst facing destitution.
Speaking to Sara highlights another equally neglected concern. Facing the anxieties of self-isolation, difficult working conditions and transitions to online work regimes alongside the growing immediacy of peoples needs, support and charity workers receive little recognition for the heightened levels of stress and pressure on their mental health. On one hand they are dealing with the structural fallacies of the British immigration system that is discriminatory and flawed, and on the other they are carrying the responsibility for somehow fixing it overnight to lift people out of destitution and immediate health hazards. Their task seems daunting. As these Glasgow stories demonstrate, the Covid-19 crisis has rendered the impact of the inadequate treatment of migrants in this country visible. This treatment is a result of a political choice, a choice that more than ever needs revisiting.