by Dan Ehrlich
Among the cruel injustices endured by many members of the so-called “Windrush Generation,” of particular note are the cases of Britain’s stateless children.
Most are the grown offspring of Caribbean and other Commonwealth migrants who were either born in Britain or lived here most of their lives, yet have been denied citizenship and many social services, as well as the near impossible task of getting a decent job.
Generally over most of the world children born in a certain country are considered citizens of that country. Yet, in the past the UK has taken a chapter from the Arab World playbook, where kids of Palestinian refugees born in various Arab nations, have long been denied citizenship in those nations.
Something similar has been happening in the UK. Decades after legally arriving in Britain some immigrants have lost their passports or visas. They, along with their children, born in the UK, have been placed in a stateless limbo. Even born here, they are still tied to their parents legal status.
While much of this is the product of government regulations and even incompetence, there also has been an element of carelessness on the part of the immigrants who either lose their identity papers or fail to apply for new ones.
One recent report claims there are 120,000 undocumented migrant children in the UK, more than half of whom were born in Britain.
And according to a BBC report, hundreds of children living rough in London and other cities may have no nationality.
The BBC 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 nation-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. If you are hungry you need money – but if I steal I end up going in prison 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.”
According to UK MP Sarah Teather, “The UK is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the rights of children must be respected, regardless of their immigration status,” she said.
The recent damning report, “Growing Up in a Hostile Environment: The Rights of Undocumented Migrant Children in the UK,” published by the Coram Children’s Legal Centre, on the plight of immigrant children here was one of the driving forces behind the UK Government’s climbdown on it new tough immigration policy. According to the Prime Minister Theresa May’s Government all be changed for the better after the issuance of an official apology.
The home secretary pledged that the Windrush Generation would be granted British citizenship as the government attempted to draw a line under the scandal by describing her apology as “just the first step.”
Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the Commons she recognised the “harrowing” experiences of the Caribbean immigrants who helped rebuild postwar Britain and that she was determined to right the wrongs that had taken place.
The Home Office will now waive citizenship fees for the Windrush Generation and their families and any charges for returning to the UK for those who had retired to their countries of origin after making their lives here.
It will also scrap language and British knowledge tests and bring in speedy financial compensation for those that had suffered loss, although there has been little detail so far.
It remains to be seen if these promises will be kept and how long it will take to implement them.
Kamena Dorling, the author of the Coram report, said: “Over half of the estimated 120,000 undocumented migrant children in the UK were born here. Many have lived here for their entire childhood. Despite having strong legal claims to remain in the country and being long-term residents of our communities, in practice they are left in a precarious situation without access to basic social rights.”
The report provides a series of case studies of young people who through no fault of their own are having their lives marred, including those who have only ever known this country as their home.
One four-year-old, born in the UK, who had attended his local nursery and was subsequently enrolled in reception class, had his place taken away after his father was discovered to be working illegally, it is reported.
A 16-year-old originally from India, whose family had lived in the UK for 10 years, and repeatedly attempted to regularise their immigration status, was prevented from studying for A-levels despite doing very well in her GCSEs, it finds.
A Ugandan mother, who came to this country on a student visa, but who fell pregnant with a daughter who now suffers from sickle cell anaemia, was offered no accommodation by her local authority while she applied for leave to remain. She was instead offered a ticket to return to Uganda and a place in care for her daughter.
Two college age sisters born in Britain to a mother from St Lucia were denied passports and social services because their mother didn’t have proper proof of legal UK residency.
Some children of the “Windrush Generation”, who moved from the Caribbean to the UK several decades ago, have been stopped from returning to Britain after recent visits to Jamaica, according to the Jamaican prime minister.
PM Andrew Holness said that while he did not know of anyone in the Windrush Generation being deported to Jamaica, some of their children had been unable to return to the UK. “Not first generation Windrush, but their children . . . a few cases have been brought to my attention, not directly, not seeking my help directly,” he said.
“Many of those persons would have had to get attorneys to sort out their issues and I know at least one of them would have successfully returned to the UK,” he said.
Holness welcomed an apology by Theresa May, the British prime minister, to him and other Caribbean leaders over the harassment of Windrush immigrants.
Yet, as stated, all this will be made right if the Government keeps its word.