Durham University: Government COVID response did not effectively support UK migrants

The study, by Professor Benedetta Cappellini alongside colleagues Dorothy Ai-wan Yen on of Brunel Business School, Hsiao-Pei Yang of Coventry University and Suraksha Gupta of Newcastle University London, sought to better understand why migrants living in the UK experienced additional mental strains and anxieties during Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures imposed by the Government, in order to help facilitate justice for overlooked parts of society.

About the research
The researchers conducted 60 interviews with Chinese, Italian and Iranian migrants living in the UK. These nationalities were specifically chosen due to the high number of deaths within their countries at the time the study took place, and because of the stricter prevention measures enforced within their own borders, at a time before such restrictions came into place in the UK.

Also, at the time of the fieldwork, the UK Government was still advising against the benefits of wearing face masks to the general public, but participants offered counterarguments in favour of mask use, citing sources from their home countries, including newspaper articles and information received through networks of friends and family.

The interviewees were asked general questions about their personal backgrounds, professions and their motivations to move to the UK, as well as more exploratory questions designed to gauge their understanding of the lockdown and government measures both in their home countries and in the UK. Researchers also asked interviewees about their daily experiences of mandatory confinement and their different coping practices.

The results
The results showed that, similar to UK nationals, migrants adapted their living and working habits during the lockdown to best comply with Government guidance and to stay safe.

In the early stages of the pandemic, many migrants experienced unexpected and significant new worries if they adopted additional health and safety practices in line with the guidance distributed by their home countries that had not yet been advised or adopted by the UK Government e.g., mask-wearing and being wary of a negative or hostile public response.

According to the researchers, the unexpected and negative reactions migrant interviewees had received from those around them triggered additional emotional stress and anxieties. As a result, migrants were faced with adopting “multi-layered integrated coping strategies”, developing individual, household-based and community-based protective strategies, in order to stay safe and not provoke additional anxieties.

Families of mixed nationalities were placed under further strain when migrants’ families overseas implored their UK-based relatives to adopt more cautious behaviour such as mask-wearing and social distancing, particularly when British members of the family chose not to do so.

Other concerns highlighted by the study was the limited effectiveness of Government messaging to penetrate some migrant communities where English was not a first language and, consequently, communities did not engage with British media or news and were unable to both fully follow lockdown rules or use support services.

Implications
Researchers believe their study leads to several managerial implications for governments and policymakers to consider in the event of future pandemics or Covid-19 lockdowns, to best ensure public health, safety and wellbeing are protected. Action should be taken, they say, to support migrant families and communities and to promote societal understanding and inclusion.

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