Children 'with no state' in UK


Inside Out London has uncovered stories of children who, according to official records, do not exist

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Hundreds of children living rough in London and other cities may have no nationality, the BBC has found.

Inside Out London has uncovered stories of children who according to official records do not exist - some forced into sex work to eat.

Further research by the BBC suggests it is a UK-wide problem.

Charities warn of stateless children in Birmingham, Leeds, Coventry, Nottingham, Newcastle, Liverpool, Oxford and Cardiff.

"The problems caused by statelessness are by no means limited to London," Chris Nash, of charity Asylum Aid, said.

Though, he acknowledges it is in the capital that the problem is most acute.

Start Quote

If you are hungry you need money - but if I steal I end up going in prison ”

End Quote Tony, 17

Many of London's stateless youths came to the UK legally, but were never officially registered.

They cannot access education or apply for social housing.

And according to two respected youth charities contacted by the BBC, there are "hundreds" of them in the city.

Both Coram Children's Legal Centre and Peckham Project Safe 'n' Sound are calling for increased awareness of the problem.

Safe 'n' Sound's Jennifer Blake said: "To date, we've been approached by over 600 young people. It is a big issue."

Health deteriorating

Ms Blake attempts to try to get the children off the streets and into safe shelter as quickly as possible.

Jennifer Blake Jennifer Blake tries to find shelter for vulnerable youngsters

She has been trying to find a room for Ugandan-born Tony, 17, who has been sleeping on buses since his father kicked him out while living in the UK.

Tony said: "It is a struggle. If you are hungry you need money.

"But if I steal I end up going in prison and that's not me, I don't want that."

After two years of living on the streets and struggling to find food and shelter, Tony's health is deteriorating.

Start Quote

I have to do things that make me sick and ashamed just for a few pounds”

End Quote Libyan girl, 17

He said: "This year when the cold came it really had me - I was coughing, sneezing. I got it badly.

"I've got a lot skinnier because of the problems I've been having."

Some stateless children are as young as 14. With no support, shelter or care, they are increasingly turning to crime to survive.

And for teenagers like Tony, attempting to become a legal citizen retrospectively can be virtually impossible.

No longer in contact with their families, they struggle to prove their identity to immigration officials.


How does a child become stateless?

They might have arrived in the UK with no papers from their state of origin. Or they may be visiting relatives on visitor visas but never leave.

Parents are often unwilling to contact the authorities for fear of deportation.

If the child flees his or her guardian they may be left with nothing to show who they are.

It is an uphill legal struggle to gain British nationality.

And with no documentation it is far from certain their country of origin will let them return.

Tony said: "They've told me I need to get a letter from my dad.

"How can I get a letter from my dad if he kicked me out?"

Some girls are being reduced to sexual exploitation.

One 17-year-old, who was smuggled out of Libya in 2009, also has no country to call home.

Worried about the military violence in the country, her mother paid a friend to look after her in the UK.

But within months she was abandoned by her guardian.

She told the BBC: "I just ended up living on the streets.

"Sometimes I feel like killing myself.

"I have to do things that make me sick and ashamed just for a few pounds, sometimes even pennies - just so I can eat or get somewhere to sleep for one night."

According to the Oxford University Centre on Migration Policy and Society, London and Birmingham are the major hotspots for statelessness.

The organisation spoke to 53 "irregular migrant" children and parents in the two cities, from countries including Afghanistan, Brazil, China, Jamaica, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq and the Kurdish region of Turkey.

The researchers estimate there are 120,000 children living in the UK without legal immigration status, mostly in London.

About a tenth of London's children are thought to have uncertain immigration status.

But there are no concrete figures for the number of stateless children - precisely because they are stateless.

And some local authorities may not always be acting within the law or good practice guidance.

The BBC has heard suggestions councils are trying to assess children to be older than they are so they can avoid being responsible for them.

Support and accommodation

Amara Ahmad, of solicitors Fisher Meredith, says she is acting for several children taking legal action against councils for this reason.

And Coram also said it was aware of the ploy.

Neither organisation would disclose the specific councils alleged to be at fault.

Kamena Dorling, of Coram Children's Legal Centre, said: "If you are a child in the UK, regardless of immigration status the local authority has a legal duty - they should be looking after you.

"They should be providing you with support and accommodation and often this doesn't happen."

Since the BBC's investigation, Safe 'n' Sound has managed to secure Tony's immigration status and he now has the right to reside in the UK.

He is still homeless.

BBC Inside Out is on BBC One in the London region on Monday, 5 November at 19:30 GMT and nationwide on the iPlayer for seven days thereafter.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Errr how did they get here in the first place?
    Surely not another consequence of open door mass immigration?
    Well, OK. Yes it is.
    Pity the children. But place the blame where it belongs.
    On feckless parents and the politically correct multicultural dogma of the 2000s.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I think we need a system which deals with homeless children that indicates liabilities. If they have been 'dumped' then the person who was responsible has to be charged with the cost of their upkeep. (like the CPA supposedly operates).
    Otherwise as we to be able to account for every calf and lamb in the UK maybe every UK citizen and 'immigrant' could be chipped for ID purposes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    If so many come lere legally then who did they come here with and where are they?, reality is this is probably blow back from the unhindered mass immigration we've seen over the last 15 years, it would be better if we had tough border control & decent regulation then this wouldn't have happened so much, it's nice to think we can have open borders but the flow will never stop, there's just to many

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    This is a problem for the EU government to solve, the UK government can't even help poor and homeless UK nationals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    5. John
    The UK is, historically, a nation of immigrants. What 'social fabric' are you alluding to? Was that the one where the British invaded countries, enslaved their people and took anything of value for King & Country?

    How would you feel if you had no cultural identity - even one that you use to damm the innocent?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    What do people expect from corrupt country's, "share of wealth?"
    It will only get worst with all the corruption from banks to big business's and the mega rich which are holding the developing world to ransom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    If they're from warmer places I'd be tempted to go home at least for winter, I'm cold sat at my desk let alone on a park bench.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    My Opinion: On the whole Britain has been helping so many people giving asylum, thus I am sure they will try to do something for these vulnerable. Common Britain don't let me down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I treasure my British passport more than ever.
    This story must surely make our children realise too how lucky they are to have British citizenship automatically.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Find out where they came from or even last came from, by language if need be and dump them all back. This is purely a scam pretending to be stateless designed to bypass petty formal bureaucracy pedants. Failing that lock them up in refugee like tented camps until claimed, or suddenly remember where they came from. Stop pandering to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    8. Blagshaw

    Dead on!

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    sounds great doesnt it? 1 How much DNA testing has been done in their home countries to establish a database. 2 It probably isnt going to tell you better than African, which you knew anyway. John: It's not the kids' fault. Yes ideally repatriate them. Where to? Maybe just want to shoot them like the other "vermin". Grow some compassion!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    We've brought the world's problems to our streets and made them our problems.

    The British public have been treated very badly and given all kinds of social problems by our 'great' leaders in the past 40 years. Expect a glib apology and to be told 'lessons have been learned' in the decades to come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Very very sad, I am rue to say however when I heard on the radio about 'children' I assumed you meant children, when I heard some were as young as 14 even my 13 year old son said, they're not children they're teenagers, doesn't make much difference but they aren't children so report it right BBC please. Not sure about some of the comments so far though as it isn't their fault, not sure what to do!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I feel ashamed to be British now days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    It's hardly surprising that depression is becoming one of the biggest afflictions in the UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Funny how we are an Island surrounded by water yet we have worse immigration problems than most landlocked countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The survey that the figures are based upon, was totally uncritically received on the Today Program this morning Such surveys are self-selecting for people who are either victims or related closely with victims and so are in no way reflective of the broader community as they claim to be Such polarization of opinion is useful only for the pressure groups who make their money from promoting the issue

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    border control and this gov'nt to blame on this subject .allowing kids in and gov'nt to do nothing about may be hard but thos know where they come from ,so this gov'nt should help and get them home. yes stereotonic very doubtfull anything done for these kids.


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