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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  • Comment number 394.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    We are an island. How do these people get here in the first place? Are our border and immigration controls really so inept? My parents' generation fought and suffered in World War II so that you and I could live in peace. My parents are both now in their 90s and are still fighting and struggling just to make ends meet! This country must look after its own first!

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    They shouldn't be here in the first place. If benefits and conditions generally were not so attractive most of the asylum seekers wouldn't be desperate to come here. Its a cruel world and Britain cant solver all its problems. If the do-gooders are so outraged they should pay to help them not expect the government to do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    Why isn't the name of the editor / author mentioned anyway on this page??

    This is an important topic, but also a topic which the author knows full well will incite people to spit out vicious and mis-informed opinions.

    This is the kind of thing that annoys me in this country. People try and divide the UK by racism and politics when we should all be pulling together to create a strong, fair UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    Deport them now. They are not our problem. The world is a tough place. They might be stateless - which I doubt - but once given UK passports they will be clamouring for recognition of their identity. Find out their origins and send them there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    "Can't post any facts can you, they don't actually exist. Bless"

    You know why we cannot post facts on immigration? Because there are few Government facts but plenty of speculative estimates, even by their own admissions.

    Immigration has created enormous problems in our society for many different reasons FACT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    We should be proud to offer help to these young people. Now that the problem has been highlighted, we should offer more help so that, for example, they can settle in Britain and become secure members of society. It's shameful that they are homeless.
    As for 'sending them back', maybe we should all go back where we came from? Britain is 100% immigrant - we all came here from elsewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    @381.Name Number 6
    "You see, its comments like that that show the English can not be trusted with referendums on important subjects like Europe."

    Your comment is just as racist as any other on this blog. I grant that SOME English people cant be trusted on important subjects but SOME English people cant be trusted to tie their shoe laces. Just not ALL.

  • Comment number 386.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    @361. Name Number 6
    "Well the shouldn't have, ignorant comments on here just goes to show that English people can not be trusted with things like a referendum on Europe."

    Only in your opinion. Your comment in itself is an ignorant and bigoted comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    The young lady from Libya, can she not go back to her mother in that country? The young man from Uganda, he was kicked out by his father, why?
    I hate to think of these people on the streets but every one who gets housed in our overpopulated country takes a house or flat that someone who was born here now cannot get. We cannot keep on feeding and housing the worlds poor and hungry. Join the army?

  • Comment number 383.

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

  • Comment number 382.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    377. chiptheduck
    Another unwelcome by product of the failed multiculturalism and EU projects.
    You see, its comments like that that show the English can not be trusted with referendums on important subjects like Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    You must be looking at the old table because we are now 8th richest but in terms of wealth in this country its not very well distributed among people but more of a small number of extrememly stinking rich compared to the rest of the population of the country and we dont see them dippin in to there pockets to help do we. . .

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    It's clear that current (eu) immigration policies do not work and have led to vulnerable children living on the street and left stateless. Therefore, the obvious thing to do is pull out of the eu and make our own immigration policies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    After reading today's news on the Beeb's website, I can't understand why anyone would want to come here in the first place. Ah yes, it isn't wartorn, we have hospitals, schools, cleaner water, an education system, transport and gives people a CHANCE, doesn't it?. But I agree we should offer 'aid' to 'victims', not a passport. We can't solve the world's problems without solving ours first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    Another unwelcome by product of the failed multiculturalism and EU projects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    badleypacked kebabs
    you are ignorant bigoted and racist all in one just like your kebabs.
    i bet you were not even born here or had a relation fight a war so you could shout you foul words about the place.
    you clearly dont like the fact that some people on here do not agree with you on everything so you revert to slagging the off.
    tut tut

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    These kids obviously need urgent help but who pays for it? This country can hardly look after its own let alone foreigners.
    But the real question is - how & why do we allow these people into our country in the first place?
    I know of white British people forced to separate from their white non-European partners because immigration rules prevent the individuals from living in the others' country.


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