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 134.

    Its alright for you and the scottish and Irish. You have devolution yet your mps still dictate to England

    IT WAS LABOUR for example who created Tuition fees , using Mps from devolved areas to ram it through to England.

    I am fed it wit the welsh , irish , scots &minorities with their demands.. The sooner England becomes independant then we can control immigration

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    I do not know what illegal immigrants have to do with this matter, for it clearly states that children like Tony came here "legally", yet were kicked out of their homes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    These children are victims who need help and if we can give it we ought to help them. It's easy for us to judge their situation - have you ever had to sell your body? had no cultural/national identity? faced rejection from family/ guardians?? And all before the age of 18? We are a safe place for them and we ought to give them a fighting chance to live normal happy lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    70. The Bloke "They should get should be a one-way ticket home, or to the nearest safe country to the one they came from."

    You haven't really read this, have you? They are STATELESS, meaning they are not citizens of any country - therefore there is no country we can send them to.

    This must be hugely disappointing to Sun readers and the BNP, but your votes helped write these international laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    I have to laugh at the comments here that the authorities should track down the legal guardians, get real! if that was the case there would be no illegal immigration in the UK. Even children fleeing genuine persecution will not be in a hurry to go home. How many social workers will be on the first plane to uganda to track down this boys family? there are not enough staff to deal with it here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    Yes this is sad, but so are a lot of other situations. Why are these people in this country if they are stateless, how did they get here? I am sorry but I am sick and tired of seeing my heard earned taxes being spent on economic migrants of any age and overseas aid. The parents / relatives of these children should be prosecuted and made to pay any costs incurred in looking after them

  • Comment number 128.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    some people really should be ashamed of themselves for their comments on here, didnt know britain was full of racist non caring individuals! they are children for god sake if your ever in need i hope no one ever gives you any you dont deserve it!!! and dont say no one helps me anyway, we have it so good in this country we take what have for granted!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    I'm a bit confused by many posters here. Is it possible to tell that these people are here illegally by looking at them? Or some sort of test perhaps? Seems to me some here would take them to somewhere remote and make them dig their own graves before a quick bullet to the head.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Makes one wonder how many are in our prison's or detention centres?

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    111. penguin337

    Haven't been to London since 1985

    Won't be going back there either
    I bet London's ''gutted''.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    It’s common practice to claim that to be younger than you are as children are treated differently from adults for immigration purposes.

    Example story (from BBC):
    Initial story:
    The truth:

  • Comment number 122.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Well, they can all live in one of Tony Blair's massive properties. After all it was his open door immigration policy that caused them to be here in the first place!

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    As much as I normally list heavily to the right where immigration's concerned, I have to say that we should look after these children. They are, after all, children, who are not economic migrants here by choice. Having been abandoned, they're victims.

    Frankly, if they're resourceful enough to survive unaided on our streets, then they probably have a lot to contribute given half a chance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Parents and relatives have been bringing children over to the U K for many years, leaving them tellling them to go to the social services. They destroy their papers so that they cannot be sent back to where they came from. How many I wonder are dumped in the other E U countries. The mayor of Calais said we do not give them anything here so they do not want to stay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Apparently they can't get access to social housing - and why the hell should they? There are plenty of British people who can't get a council house, so the last thing we want are thousands of foreigners jumping the queue. I hope Blair & Brown are happy with the mess they have made of our country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Documentation is often destroyed to prevent repatriation; the truth is that many children are deliberately bought to UK by relatives wanting others to care for them. The question I would ask all those whose hearts have been moved (and we need to view this situation dispassionately and avoid emotion) is that extending a helping hand encourages more. Immediate repatriation is the kindest response.

  • Comment number 116.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    The benefits/welfare we are paying as a direct result of Labours policies are eye-watering.

    Can any Labour Politician actually still stay now that mass uncontrolled immigration is good for the UK?

    Labour need to hang their heads in shame and disgust for what they have done to both the UK public AND these immigrants who will need even more taxpayers money to bail them out of their situation


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