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 114.

    100. JPublic
    I am sick to death [...]
    Look on the bright side: at least you won't have to put up with it for much longer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    You have to wonder whether we have any immigration control at all? We house Abu Hamza but let innocent children beg for food...It really makes me ashamed of Britain's government. The "legal guardians" of these children should be jailed and deported...we won't though because of their "human rights".

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I have no Idea about living on the streets, but it will be a harsh life especially in the depths of winter for children who will be exploited by those that can. Is there a solution yes, is it a nice solution, no, its at best a stop gap, if they are illegally in the country then cases should be reviewed on an individual basis, if they have relatives then they should look after them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Haven't been to London since 1985

    Won't be going back there either

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Foremost those kids need our help,anyone that have abuse their trust should be brought to justice. I agree that these children should be return home. It time for countries to be named and shamed they also need to take more responsibility for their citizen. If not possible financial or socially take responsibility for every person that come for help. UK have poor Britain that need help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I think is a complete outrage that we are allowing asylum seekers into our country still. The problem is that the UK has a shortage of jobs, with so many young people unemployed, being denied jobs because of foreign people taking them. Just look what youth unemployment did to my town. Its not fair.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    They are here illegally, we have enough problems with our own children being let down by our Establishment (the Police, Social Services and now the BBC). I feel sorry for them but this is what happens when you surrender borders in the name of "Globalisation". Take them into care and and after the hit 18 remove them and pass the cost onto those companies and MPs who wanted open Migration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    I hate the way we have been flooded with Immigrants just as much as the next person ! BUT these are innocent children for god sake ! Have some compassion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    No way should we the taxpayer or ratepayers be asked to fork out for these kids.If they are illegals round 'em up and put them on a plane. As for using children in need money that is for our own kids.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Most or many of the places these people run from get UK aid. So tell them take back the people we deem to have come from your land or no more aid. Papers problems solved. Everyone happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    They shouldn't be here so why should I care. You don't expect to walk into a stranger's house and be fed, clothed and given a bed for life.

  • Comment number 103.

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

  • Comment number 102.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    If they came legally they came with a passport. I understand visa overstayer get rid of it to muddy the water somewhat. Hard to deal with when you dont know who, what or where.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    I am sick to death of our lying, cheating, corrupt Politicians for allowing these problems to happen.

    They allow mass uncontrolled immigration into the uk, put CCTV up everywhere and anti-terrorism laws for 'our own safety' and as a result we have a housing crisis, bloated welfare system and immigrants living rough and being exploited on our streets and its not just a problem in London either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.


    Its still linked to immigration whether those who here in the ivory towers or 2nd 3rd generation immigrants themselves or pro immigration

    I have no sympathy and its about time the after 50 years the Border control gets it act together , but i dont trust border control do anything going by the number of left wingers and immigrants in their ranks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Technically, technically, we should not be taking any asylum seekers from these countries as we are not the closest safe haven.

    But, i don't understand anyone who would want to kick a child out.
    They are children after all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    We could always submit to compulsory identification down to genetic records and impose the same on visitors. I wouldn't object to that. However, that would only address this problem in the future. The only decent thing to do in the absence of a solution is to care for them as abandoned children, whether or not their parents have betrayed our trust as guests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    There are different elements to this story that need to be treated differently.
    1. vunerable children, whereever they come from should not be on the streets. UK passport is not the answer.
    2. parents/guardians who enter this country with children should account for them when they leave. Not doing so; make them pay

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    How can we return them to where they came from? If they don't have any documentation they won't be let in. This is an unfortunate result of our lax attitude to immigration, we have to deal with the consequences and integrate them into our society. The aren't going anywhere so better to help them lead a good and useful life - we'll all benefit.


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