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.

Analysis

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
    0

    Comment number 494.

    Above all, these children must be taken off the streets and found a safe place to live both short and long term. Everything should be done to try to identify whether they do indeed have family in UK or elsewhere with whom they can be reunited. For many this will prove impossible: UK must offer long term security. I agree we should be more vigilant re who children arrive with and on what basis.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 493.

    @487. If your parents came over illegally then yes you and your parents should be sent home and anyone else like you. That is called law and order, that is why it's called illegal. Why do some people think that breaking the law is okay??? If your parents came over legally meaning if they followed the actual law then of course you and them do not have to leave. Why is this so hard to understand??

  • Comment number 492.

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

  • Comment number 491.

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

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 490.

    The study on migrant children without legal status in the UK cited in this article can be accessed here: http://irregularvoices.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/no-way-out-no-way-in-migrant-children-fall-through-the-net/
    The COMPAS study shows the multiple ways in which insecurity of legal status can affect child development and their everyday lives in the UK.

  • Comment number 489.

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

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 488.

    "some local authorities may not always be acting within the law or good practice guidance." - alas, they often don't act within the law or good practice guidance in the lot of things, knowing what they can get away with and managers will cover them up.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 487.

    I am a child of immigration, am I going to get told to 'go home'? Am I going to get expelled, interned, or sent to the nearest 'safe' country?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 486.

    "JPublic
    TMR, please - take a look over a number of episodes yourself. Its all you need. There are no stats on it."

    No, that's still known as "anecdotal" evidence and also covers a tiny proportion of alleged crimes in the UK. You would have to provide validated statistics of convictions to prove anything. What is clear is your predisposition to believe bad things of migrants.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 485.

    113.realmystery
    The "legal guardians" of these children should be jailed and deported...we won't though because of their "human rights".

    Do your really think the Border Agency knows who these children are and who brought them here? The Border Agency isn't fit for purpose and never has been - merely New Labour window dressing.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 484.

    475.Trout Mask Replica
    Methinks the Sleep of Reason has bred monsters on here, and in this Country in general, even as Civilisation itself is but a thin veneer. So I'm off to have Reason restored for a bit :)

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 483.

    Perhaps empty office space could ne used to house these stateless kids whilst their cases are being dealt with. Until they are rounded up then statements as to numbers are pure guesswork.

  • Comment number 482.

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

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 481.

    Many of these children have been sent to the west by cynical dishonest adults hoping to use them as 'anchors' to establish their own claims to residency. Unfair to all,but esp. to the UK taxpayer, who is forced to support these potential problem-causers indefinitely. So many lies,so much hassle, all such a waste of resources better spent on our own children. Tin hats on - lefty PC incoming!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 480.

    472.engineer-neil

    You traced your name to 1639, it was first mentioned on documents in Ireland around 1100 so you are only 500+ years out, and your ancestors are clearly economic migrants to the UK which is ironic considering your obvious hatred of them.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 479.

    @475.Trout Mask Replica
    "Really? You've performed a census of all Crimewatch programmes and can demonstrate statistically valid evidence that supports this, can you? Crimewatch is also about unsolved crimes, so is not representative of crime in general...."

    TMR, please - take a look over a number of episodes yourself. Its all you need. There are no stats on it.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 478.

    472. engineer-neil
    I've traced roots to 1639 so I think I'm well-placed to call myself English,
    +++
    Only to 1693, I can trace my family back to the middle ages, with such strong roots in the British Isles I've never felt threatened by outside influence or 'bogeymen'.

  • Comment number 477.

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

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 476.

    These people are children for crying out loud, how or why they arrived here is immaterial. I'm no bleeding heart liberal, far from it, but some of the racist comments on this item have sickened me. I always thought that the British were known for their compassion, I have been sadly disillusioned by the verbal abuse of children posted here.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 475.

    "JPublic
    Look on Crimewatch and while migrants are still a minority,they feature as a majority of the criminals on there."

    Really? You've performed a census of all Crimewatch programmes and can demonstrate statistically valid evidence that supports this, can you? Crimewatch is also about unsolved crimes, so is not representative of crime in general. Methinks confirmation bias is at work!

 

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