By Maria Teresa Ferazzoli, Research Associate, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield & Julie Walsh Lecturer in Sociology, University of Sheffield Sheffield, November 24 (The Conversation) At the start of the pandemic, many countries closed their borders to stop the spread of COVID-19. International travel continued to be limited with changing caveats, including “essential” travel only, restrictions on travelers from particular countries and vaccination “passports”.
Although a necessary public health measure, these restrictions have been particularly disturbing for migrant families. For these families, traveling is a necessary part of meeting family obligations and maintaining a sense of “family” and belonging across borders.
These policies present a new layer of “everyday borders” for transnational families. The term “everyday border” describes how political and media discourses around migration affect the daily lives of migrants and define who “belongs” to a nation state. In the UK, these borders amplify the state’s “hostile environment”, the Home Office’s immigration policy, aimed at making it as difficult as possible to stay in the UK without proper documentation.
For migrants, their country of origin represents home and family. Home visits are important for the well-being of many people and allow migrants to be part of family traditions and religious and cultural festivals. Travel may also be necessary to fulfill the obligations to provide care for elderly, sick or young parents.
Apart from the pandemic, the ability to visit home and family has always been limited by a number of factors, including migration status and travel costs. The impact of these daily borders on the lives of some migrants has been well documented.
The introduction of COVID-19-related travel restrictions inhibited and added costly and complex border controls to migrants’ daily lives. This is at a time when the need to maintain transnational family care practices is particularly important.
Everyday Bordering in the UK Our fieldwork for the ‘Everyday Bordering in the UK’ study aims to understand how immigration law – including travel restrictions linked to COVID-19 – has impacted legal professionals. social protection and the migrant families they support.
Through interviews, diary entries and ethnographic observations, we explored how families from diverse migratory backgrounds experience the daily border. While transnational family practices were not our primary focus, our work has revealed the impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions on transnational family life. This was also supported by our researcher’s own travel experiences while visiting family in Italy.
Our research participants have constantly discussed and written about their family members who do not live in the UK and expressed a sense of responsibility for their care. This shows how important it is for family members to be able to travel in order to provide care.
Some have expressed remorse over not having been able to travel historically, due to restrictive visa requirements or prohibitive flight costs. Interviews and ethnographic observations from online English classes also reveal the impact of COVID-19-related travel restrictions on the performance of care practices.
A couple from Poland – whom we call Krystyna and Henryk – now living in the UK, describe the disruption caused by such restrictions. In March 2020, Krystyna was visiting Poland to help her parents with aging grandparents, when travel was first banned. She was unable to return to her partner in the UK due to flight cancellations.
Meanwhile, Henryk described being “depressed” and alone, saying: My family is not here because they are in Poland, so I spent a few days in bed. […] it was a very bad experience in my life.
While commercial flights were not available at the time, charter flights brought many citizens back to their home countries after work or vacation. But these flights ignored the people in Krystyna’s position – as a Polish citizen – and their transnational family responsibilities, which are now shared between two countries.
Travel essential Now that many countries have reopened their borders for travel, governments and airlines have put in place a series of measures and controls to contain the virus. Examples include the EU Green Pass, the UK Passenger Tracking Form, evidence of negative tests for COVID-19 and mandatory quarantine in hotels.
These can be expensive and difficult to access, as our researcher noted in his own experience: after not seeing my family for over a year, including my severely disabled mother, we decided to to fly to Italy. For the trip we needed four tests, costing … £ 160 per person. Italy required a 48-hour test, not a postal test. For someone living in London there were more cheaper options, but not for people in rural areas. In Italy, we also had to isolate ourselves for five days and get another green pass to access public spaces.
For two participants of the English course, although they wanted to visit their mothers in Turkey and India, these measures were so expensive and “complicated” that they said they “did not take the penalty to ask permission ”. They realized that it would be too difficult to travel, and they canceled their plans to visit their families.
The global COVID-19 emergency has presented many challenges for governments and highlighted the different needs of populations, including those who are marginalized.
Since the initial peak of the crisis in early 2020, many countries, including the UK, have allowed caregivers to travel between different households to provide care. While restrictions on international travel are an important feature of public health responses, in the context of this health crisis, the need for travel by migrant families must also be recognized.
Health-related boarding requirements, we believe, should be removed in due course, but governments can do more to support migrant families in the short term. Considering the different regulations in different countries, the current system is too complex, costly and contradictory. International agreements are needed to standardize the documentation required for travel and to make the processes simpler and more accessible.
(The Conversation) RS RS
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