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The bishop responsible for migration policy has warned that victims of trafficking and domestic violence could be denied vital health care if the Government's Immigration Bill becomes law.
The bill, which is being debated in the House of Commons today, proposes to restrict migrants’ access to free NHS services and would require landlords to conduct checks on tenants’ immigration status.
Speaking ahead of the debate, Bishop Patrick Lynch, an auxiliary bishop in Southwark, said he feared that the bill might deter vulnerable people from seeking help.
“It is vital that victims of human trafficking, female genital mutilation and domestic abuse are not denied medical treatment as a result of misidentification, delays in identification or because they feel discouraged to seek assistance,” he said.
“Victims of these horrific abuses are often reluctant to seek help in the first place and it is therefore essential that robust safeguards are in place.”
Bishop Lynch said that he was particularly concerned that charging for NHS services could mean that pregnant women would try to cope with their pregnancies alone, and called for children of migrants to be exempt from the legislation.
His concerns were echoed by the Caritas Social Action Network, the social action arm of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
Chief executive Helen O’Brien said that the bill must include protections for children and victims of abuse and warned that the proposals around tenancy could discourage landlords from renting to migrants and increase homelessness.