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 634.

    its unfair really because if you enter legally you get it all because i have known loads who do whereas the asylum seekers i have known some of which were illegal, have to do any work offered by anyone in able to eat and clothe themselves. I think if it was more fair, only needy immigrants woukld be allowed in and we wouldnt get this problem

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    628 britishmigrantsparty
    tut tut the mods will ONLY ALLOW comments that we MUST at any cost help these people....... or any negatives WILL BE REMOVED

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    This isn't really an immigration issue as most immigrants don't live like this. However I look at asylum seekers in the same way as wind turbines; there isn't enough land to build enough wind turbines to generate all our electricity, therefore they are useless and we should have none. We can't possible help everyone, it's not fair to help some & not others, therefore we should help none.

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    625. koolkarmauk 

    For a fool the truth is easy to see however very difficult to accept.. for a Racist Bigot that true is all the more harder which is why we have such dissemination and denial in the U.K.
    Never the less you can only fool the people for so long. their eyes will see the truth no matter how unpalatable in the end..

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    Give the money to a couple as last week on TV, who has got 8 kids & never works & sees nothing wrong in being a LEACH for remainder of their lives, or give it to a child/person whos attrocious life experiences are so beyond imagination & the money helps them live a prosperous life making financial/economic contribution to UK.

    Personally, lets swap, kick out the leaches

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    The venom in this column is amazing. Ever heard 'There but for the grace of God go I?' It's not just these kids, human beings like the rest of us that need's the ones who are so condemnatory towards them who need help the most. Lack of compassion, lack of caring...they are kids no matter how they got here...they didn't come on their own on a plane and get ditched illegally or otherwise

  • Comment number 628.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    Where did all these children come from? Abroad, probably, and all conveniently slipped through immigration controls, exposing yet again the weakness of our borders.

    The best thing that can be done is to return them to their countries of origin. They are an unnecessary expense on the UK taxpayer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    Another reason to vote BNP!

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    612.Socialist Apocalypse The Thieves Amongst Us

    Total nonsense, there are no "no go areas" and no more tensions in Bradford then there are between Leeds and Man U supporters. Total myth and right wing propaganda. I would rather live in Thornbury/Bradford than some of the cess pit predominantly white estates in Bradford/Leeds, contaminated by gangs, drugs and violent drunks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    //554. hopeless100
    There are too many, I think immediate deportation is required. No question. //


    Where too they are STATELESS ?

    These are Children, abandoned through no fault of their own, to show less than compassion is an absolute inhuman act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    An aquaintance of mine who works in the field mentioned that it is often natives that benefit from the welfare state who protest the most vociferously about this kind of thing as they see foreigners as competitors in the benefits game. They want all the benefits for themselves, not share it with immigrants, no matter how much more deserving they are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.


    Some parents are absolute horrors too...

    Even if an unruly child has pushed their otherwise decent parents too far, is that really a good reason to force them into a cycle of crime or abuse to survive? Or should they be helped onto a better path?

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    617. Linda 

    Irony - after all the hand wringing about child abuse here we are leaving children at risk that child abuse continues here in the UK?!

    614 koolkarmauk

    Interesting why don't you ask 614 koolkarmauk about the very serious cases of it in the news recently and more importantly the ongoing investigations ? much more to soon.

  • Comment number 620.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    the situation is tragic whichever way you look at it BUT lets not get lost in the bleeding heart syndrome or get them back where they came from argument.Deal with it because it's here but get the evidence first....did the kids get kicked out or did they walk out. Without knowing both sides it's easy to accept one side only. Some kids are absolute horrors and may have precipitated their own state

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    everybody benefits if these children are helped into the society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    Irony - after all the hand wringing about child abuse here we are leaving children at risk of it and so many other problems - are we surprised that child abuse continues here in the UK?!
    It is about time we stopped treating all children like objects and dehumanising them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    606 viv
    yes minus 10 billion the other minus is the money they ship out to their own country after working here for a few years, which is enough to make them relatively well off on there return. but it goes out of the u.k.
    (just like offshore, no benefit to us)

  • Comment number 615.

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


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