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 94.

    89. The Bloke

    No, in a spirit of vibrant inclusiveness, round up the kids and the 'carers' and chuck them all out.
    How nice to see humanity and compassion alive and well in the UK today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    More memory loss in official circles. I don't blame the homeless kids, they are just pawns in the whole thing. Theresa May never seems to get a grip of anything she handles. Surely, if the children are known to charities, she could at least see that the proper paperwork is done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    That children have to sleep on the streets is unacceptable - it is also unacceptable that our authorities do not find the parents/guardians of these children and prosecute them. We are seen as an easy touch for spongers and economic migrants - try that in their country and you will find that your feet will not touch the ground till after you have been deported back to the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    It always makes me smile that the left are always calling for action to help but if the goverment bought or rented a house near them to house these poor children they would be first to complain that it was lowering their house prices. the middle class left are the biggest hypocrits in the country

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    63. Listener
    "Some of whom have gone through 23 safe countries to get here."

    Yes, but if they don't speak French/German/Dutch etc, but do speak a little English, those countries will simply pass them on to us. This is what we get for exporting our language all over the world. Or would you rather be speaking Albanian?

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    // BadlyPackedKebab
    '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.//

    No, in a spirit of vibrant inclusiveness, round up the kids and the 'carers' and chuck them all out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Ok then 82 why don't we just invite the entire population of every "bad" country over here then?

    I'm sure a few million people in Syria could come over to start with.

    Oh slight problem, we need to raise the tax rate to 95% to pay for them all, but you don't mind that. Right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Wow. Living rough on the streets seems to have improved a lot these days! Even working full time doesn't give me the surplus cash to afford a diamond earstud...

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    it was obvious listening to Jenifer blake on radio 4 this morning that she didn't have much of a clue what she was on about. She sounded as though she too has come off the street. When asked about the scale of the problem she said the numbers were "in the thousands". The presenter pressed further, "your guess is as good as mine" she said. Here it mentions 600. typical BBC sensationalism.

  • Comment number 85.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Regardless of HOW the children got here - it is a country and society's responsibility to look after children and the vulnerable.

    We are a 1st World country, we CAN afford to look after these people and protect them.

    This is the 21st Century not the middle ages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Stories like those of Tony tug at your heart strings as do documentaries filmed in poverty stricken places around the globe. Unfortunately, as a Nation, we cannot afford to bring them all to Britain.
    We do however, as a Nation with a conscience, constantly donate money to Charities to provide help.
    Sorry Tony but it is not our taxpayers job to look after you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    79. Bauer
    Like the one from Libya, why doesn't she just go to the Police station and get sent home. That country is fine now, no worse than London anyway.
    In which part of London was the US ambassador plus 3 Navy seals murdered by Islamists armed with anti-tank missiles?

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    At last something decent to spend my taxes on! Automatic citizenship and protection NOW! They're children, for goodness sake!

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    "Can't we use DNA to tell where they're from."

    Ha ha ha ha ha!.. The sad thing is you probably think that can work. Try understanding how something works and what can be done with it before suggesting a solution.
    Ridulous - but at least it made me laugh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Why don't you give them a bed in your house then Linda. Some of us are sick to the back teeth of paying for anyone and everyone to just come to this country.

    Like the one from Libya, why doesn't she just go to the Police station and get sent home. That country is fine now, no worse than London anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    We must help these kids now before they become too assimilated into the criminal underclass. The parents/relatives/guardians should be found and, if appropriate, punished. The question of repatriation can be considered later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    How do they enter legally without record of having come in the country. Seemingly as young as14 without anyone responsible for them. Who just lets unaccompanied 14 yr old foreign nationals in Perhaps they entered to be exploited. Where do they obtain resources to travel here from great distances if Stateless. Looks like another mess that will cost us zillions.Not the kids fault, but not right

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    There is no mention here of finding the legal guardian. Local authorities should take these children into care - no doubt about that - but police authorities should be led to wherever the legal guardian lives and impose harsh penalties and fees for looking after these children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    It seems like these poor children are no more than a tool to get the parents/guardians short term gain and when they are no longer useful, they are dumped. Tighten up controls to prevent this trafficking. There are more consequences for disreputable pet owners than guardians!


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