The Impact of COVID-19 on Migrants in the North of England

Thu, 24 Mar 2022 19:00 in Discussion Forums

Venue: Online
Date: Tuesday, 24 February 2022
Time: 19:00- 20:00


  • Hakk Ozal, Healthcare CIC; Political Refugee
  • Ali Mahgoub, Director, Leeds Refugee Forum
  • Dr Jessica Potter, NHS Consultant in Respiratory Medicine; #PatientsNotPassports Campaigner
  • Cheriesse Bema-Kwakye, Research Fellow and Project Co-ordinator, Dialogue Society


The Covid-19 pandemic has been a fundamental shock all over the world with thousands having lost their lives to the virus, as well as many being affected by the economic and social impacts which the pandemic has produced. Arguably this crisis has hit migrants, such as refugees and asylum seekers the hardest. With strict immigration policies resulting in many migrants left without support and who then become vulnerable to the risk of poverty or destitution in this already difficult period. Such as the NRPF condition, highlighted by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, which is subject to certain migrants in order to ensure they do not become a burden to public finances. However, those migrants who have managed to secure employment are also placed in precarious positions as these individuals, who tend to occupy lower-skilled jobs, are largely exposed to Covid-19 and it is known that those who have higher incomes are likely to have better health outcomes.

According to survey data in 2019 from The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, migrants in the UK were less likely to have health problems than those born in the UK. Yet the poor situation that they have been placed in, where government support is minimal as well as the persistent virus is likely to jeopardize their health and their ability to bounce back from this. The impact of Covid-19 on migrants has not only affected migrants themselves but also the current economic climate which the UK is facing. With minimal migration flows into and out of the UK, many businesses and sectors have been seriously affected as migrants constitute a substantial portion of the UK’s workforce. This share of migrant workers has dropped which is likely due to the pandemic. With levels of migration being concentrated in inner-cities such as areas within North of England, Covid-19 is likely to have a serious impact on these individuals and the communities they associate themselves with.

This insightful discussion panel will explore both the impacts Covid-19 has had on migrants and migration, as well as how communities within the North of England can come together to overcome the difficulties that this may produce.


Hakk Ozal is a Turkish migrant who worked in the Education sector for six years prior to travelling to Laos to further his studies in Teaching Pedagogy at the National University of Laos. He also attained a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and worked as Director of Public Relations at the International School of Laos.

After his passport renewal efforts at the Turkish Embassy in Laos was rejected, Ozal realised returning to Turkey was not an option, for fear of political persecution and the safety of himself and his family. He then sought political asylum in the UK, where he now works as Project Co-ordinator at Bevan Healthcare. Hakk Ozal has come across numerous obstacles when settling in the UK, and is joining us to speak on how he had to overcome living as a migrant in the UK during the pandemic and in a political climate that sought to create a hostile environment for him and many others in his situation.

Ali Mahgoub is Director of Leeds Refugee Forum, a community organisation which offers practical support for refugees and asylum seekers through education, advice, information dissemination and social activities, as well as creating a space where refugees and the communities they belong to, can meet and find mutual support.

As an organisation they aim to provide Refugee Community Organisations (RCOs) support in governance, training, navigating registration processes and running community activities. By providing this kind of support to both individuals and community organisations, LRF aims to provide a means for refugee communities to produce a collective, strong and confident voice to be heard by a wide range of agencies and organisations in the city and the region.

LRF also works collaboratively with other organisations providing services for refugees and asylum seekers in Leeds, to not only ensure the needs of this community are met, but also advocate on their behalf to government agencies. Through our work we aim to empower individuals and Refugee Community Organisations (RCOs), reduce isolation and disadvantage that many may experience, and provide a greater opportunity for refugees and asylum seekers to thrive in their new home.

Dr Jessica Potteris a consultant in respiratory medicine, public health researcher and activist. Her research focuses on access to health care and the structural conditions that shape these experiences. During the COVID-19 pandemic she worked both in a large intensive care unit in London and as a respiratory consultant in a busy North London Hospital where she is now clinical lead of the tuberculosis service. Jess campaigns for the right to health for all with a number of grassroots organisations including Docs Not Cops. She has spoken about these issues on television and radio, and written extensively in the national and international press. In 2019 Jess was recognised for her contribution to the #PatientsNotPassports campaign at the UNHCR/ Migrants Organise Women on the Move Awards.

Cheriesse Bema-Kwakye is a Research Fellow and Project Co-ordinator at the Dialogue Society. Prior to joining the Dialogue Society, she held roles in fundraising, marketing and campaigning in charity organisations which operate both internationally and locally.

Cheriesse holds a BA (Hons) in Human Geography and Environment from the University of York and is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Development Studies from the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science. As a Human Geographer and sustainable development professional, she has strong interests in decolonial political geographies, critical geopolitics, feminist political ecologies, and environmental peace-building.