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 74.

    Have you not noticed where most of these good human beings have managed to seek refuge from?
    Yes that's right in places where the UK and many other Country's have played war games with!
    If we can afford to make wars then we can afford to keep their people here!
    Soon it will be our own children on the streets of the UK or in other Country's with the same problems. Can this Coalition do any better?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I am deeply ashamed that the comments here are missing the point - children sleeping on the streets and at risk - they can die on a cold night, be attacked, sexually assualted etc they need help - if you have not been homeless (aren't you lucky) you cannot appreciate the trauma associated with this.
    Children In Need - here they are!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    "Hello, where are you from? tell us so we can send you back"
    "ummmm, let me think..... I'm from nowhere :D"
    "Oh ok, here have a house (after we kick out these pesky English people) and some benefits"


  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    @55. GB

    Being compassionate has what has got Britain in the state it is today, where cops are afraid to do their job in case they are called racist, where employers have to employ ethnic minorities for fear of being called racist or the government coming down on them for not filling their quota. Being compassionate is taking the Great out of Great Britain. Think about British people for a change

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    I utterly refute the notion that 'local authorities', i.e. we, the taxpayer, should be taking responsibility for these people.

    If they can be located, they help they should get should be a one-way ticket home, or to the nearest safe country to the one they came from.

  • Comment number 69.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    41 Tony of Britain

    "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."
    Any Evidence? Personally, sick of people making sweeping statements like this.

    " It is time that we put the indigenous population first for a change"
    So what's this "indigenous population"? Most people have foreign ancestry,you know?

  • Comment number 67.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Dear Daily Mail,
    It appears some of your readership have leaked from your web forums and ended up on HYS at the BBC. Would you please kindly take them back as they are a nuisance.
    Best regards,

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    The real problem here is our government’s false story that Britain and especially London is going exceptionally well during the financial crisis, compared to the rest of the world.

    So people from Europe and other countries, they pack their belongings and come to London for a better life. Doesn’t this sound familiar Dick Whittington with the streets of London paved with gold!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Thanks to our porous borders and complacent government our country is becoming a magnet for immigrants from all over the world. We already have a housing crisis and unless a halt is called very soon, living standards for the majority of the population will plummet and our lovely country will become a hell on earth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    There are no wars on our borders and yet we have millions of refugees here. Some of whom have gone through 23 safe countries to get here.
    I don't recall any manifesto from the last 40 years saying if elected they'd allow millions of people into the country to live on benefits, and yet here we have it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Tony was not stateless he was Ugangdan.
    Have to feel sorry for anyone that is thrown out by their family.
    Good luck to the young man in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    This is the result of years of a liberal immigration policy driven by middle-class progressives. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are as much to blame as anyone else for the problem but the current administration won't do anything to stop the flow either.
    We can't send them back because no other country would be stupid enough to take them in so the problem will be with us for eternity..

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    In the past 30 yrs or so the UK has always been a better place to live if you were not born there. Time for a change

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    'Some were brought here quite legally, then thrown out by their so called carers'

    An idea then - look after the kids until they are adults but repatriate the so called carers/parents immediately.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    I don't know about feeling ashamed to be British as someone has stated but I would be ashamed to be a citizen of a country whose people feel it OK to drag a child across the world to a completely alien country and then dump them on the street because they consider them an inconvenience. Speaks volumes for the quality of character of people deemed by government as a valuable contributors to the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Theresa May might look like the child chatcher, but the reality is it was her that finished the hatchet job on UK boarder control, that Labour started years ago.

    Only solution now is to build homes for these people on the green belt. Oh well, at least it will be good for growth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Ah yet another one of New Labour's legacies.

    This country needs effective border controls to stop the never ending flow of people here. The parents and guardians of these children should be tracked down and punished for what they have done to these children.
    However this country can not and has no obligation to continue to take in every waif and stray out there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    "41. Tony of Britain Do you think you would get compassion in their countries? I very much doubt it."

    Being compassionate is what makes Britain Great. I notice that your name doesn't have Great in it, just saying.


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