Concerns for undocumented migrants seeking medical care

Many fear being deported during coronavirus outbreak if they come forward

Concerns are increasing among up to 20,000 undocumented migrants about being deported if they seek healthcare during the coronavirus outbreak.

The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI) is calling for assurances that no undocumented person will be issued with a "Section 3" deportation order as a result of coming forward for medical care for coronavirus.

Though no one is asked their immigration status at the point of seeking medical care, if they were to need further treatment or hospitalisation they could be asked for a PPS number, said Edel McGinley director of the MRCI.

“It has been our experience over the last year or two years, that when they then apply for a PPS number – because the healthcare has to be paid for – and they are not entitled to one, they can end up being reported by a social welfare officer to the gardaí,” she said. “It has made undocumented hesitant about seeking healthcare.


“Undocumented people are always living in fear, but in a crisis situation like we are in now there must be reassurance that they will be safe if they need to come forward for testing or medical attention. They need to be included in the planning for this.”

The MRCI met Department of Justice officials on Friday at which the matter was raised.

Ms McGinley said while officials offered assurances deportation orders would not be enforced, bar in exceptional circumstances, during the crisis, there were no reassurances that deportation orders would not be made as a result of people seeking medical attention.

‘Very worried’

A Department of Justice spokesman told The Irish Times: “Healthcare professional do not request details of the immigration status of any patients in their care. In these circumstances the hypothetical question of referring the details to the immigration service would not arise.”

Ms McGinley said migrants – both documented and undocumented – could be “at the sharp end” of the Covid-19 outbreak, medically, emotionally and financially.

“We are getting a lot of calls. People are very worried. Both documented and undocumented are asking, ‘How do we access entitlements?’, ‘How do we survive?’”

International students, most of whom have a right to work when they are not studying, are not entitled to any welfare payments in the event of being laid off. Nor are undocumented migrant workers entitled to financial supports. Both these cohorts are working “across the labour force” said Ms McGinley – “in home-care, childcare, restaurants, catering, construction, agriculture, maintenance, IT”.

“Many of these will be hit by a downturn and people are really worried about short-term lay-offs, involuntary lay-offs.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast