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 54.

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

    Really? Do you have evidence to support that statement? Norway, Switzerland and several other EU countries have higher immigration rates than the UK does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    @40 What? Are you suggesting that nations are raping beating and starving their own people?

    Seriously? Are you suggesting that we let absolutely everybody in the world here because their own people might hurt them?

    They were fine for thousands of years without needing our shelter. If they have social problems, those are THEIR social problems.

    Stupid bleeding hearts!

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    More fallout from Labours failed social engineering experiment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I feel desperately sorry for the children, they're not to blame. Labour and its ridiculous social engineering policies are solely to blame for this. The current government also needs to take responsibility for doing a grand total of nothing to sort this out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    How can they be here legally yet have no identity as such?This smacks more of the uncontrolled mass immigration of people along with so called asylum seekers who literally got lost in the system,vanished and are now re-appearing because they're desperate for our help.If they're here legally,help them,if not ship them back to country of origin.Harsh,yes,fair, yes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    These children are not stateless. It just needs a little care in determining their nationality. Steps were taken after WW2 to ensure no one could become stateless in the future. As for their country of origin refusing to take them back, what makes them think it is optional?

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Unfortunately it is not just stateless children who are affected by this, many British born children are as well. It is a sad truth that they are still better off than they would be in their country of origin. Sadly Britain cannot solve the world's ills or be responsible for people who will not or cannot solve their own country's problems. Therefore it is unfair to lay any blame local authorities

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The example used here there seems no difficulty, even here described as 'Ugandan born'. When is the next plane? Job done, solved, for the better of all, Free trip home.

    No use of UK facilities, education, housing, benefits, etc.

  • Comment number 46.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    The fact that children - CHILDREN - are sleeping rough on our streets is a national disgrace. What is being done about it? We need answers, NOW!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    These "children" should be taken into care and steps taken to repatriate then asap.
    THEN CLOSE THE OPEN DOOR !!!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    It is common practice for illegal immigrants to secure their own states via their innocent children. We have to draw a clear line. The best solution is to punish parents but help children. They can easily give children their own nationalities, instead of leaving them stateless. Such children alone should be offered long-term visa in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    This is exactly what happens when you have an immigration system out of control, what a mess, for years our borders have been insecure, immigration is a subject politician`s avoided so they wouldn't be accused of being a racist. how many people are in this country illegally? who knows... perhaps 1 million? whats going to become of them when they get old? they don't have pensions,

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    @22. Nickthevet

    Its all very well saying have some compassion, but you can bet these kids will be claiming racism or some other unjustified claim that the so called do gooders will use to keep destroying our country. It is time that we put the indigenous population first for a change rather then foreigners. Do you think you would get compassion in their countries? I very much doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Deeply horrified by some of the comments here - these are young people who are likely to die on our streets, and all you can say is 'send them home' - can't you understand that they have no homes? Some were brought here quite legally, then thrown out by their so called carers - just as most of the young folk on our streets are. Should you send them back to beatings, rape, starvation and pain?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    To condemthem

    "Can't we use DNA to tell where they're from. Then their 'home' countries can look after their welfare"

    No you cannot. This is because human genetic variation is not distinct between populations. That means that if you get the genes of a black man from sub-Saharan Africa, and a white man from the UK, their genes -could be- more similar than 2 white men in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Did our grandparents fight world wars to help these people....or to help us?

    Dont you DARE take my grandfathers name in vain. He shot facists not for us to become fascists as well. SHAME ON YOU!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    I don't see how difficult it is to register someone as soon as they arrive here, at the airport, if they're here for the very first time? Why wait until they disappear, and then wonder why they're not registered? It's not rocket science! Register them, take all details, before you let them out of the airport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Whatever it takes the Government should act immediately and shelter these children if this does not happen then I am ashamed to be British.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    5. Racist John "Shouldn't even be in this country in the first place."

    Doesn't solve the problem does it? You have homeless children without a home country on the streets, forced to commit crime (no other option). They can't be ignored, although I think their supposed legal guardians or parents should be dealt with harshly. Police are turning an eye I'm sure, too much of an inconvenience.


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