A call to action: supporting young people with precarious citizenship

A call to action: supporting young people with precarious citizenship


Written by: Baljeet Sandhu and Jennifer Ang

An important conference on securing justice for young people with precarious citizenship is taking place in London on 1 June, organised by the Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit at Islington Law Centre in conjunction with Birkbeck College.

What is precarious citizenship?

ImmAct2016Significant numbers of young people who are settled in the UK (estimated conservatively at some 120,000 in 2012) do not have British citizenship or any ‘lawful’ status to remain in the UK. Recent cuts to legal aid and fast-paced changes to immigration laws, including the new Immigration Act 2016 which received Royal Assent on 12 May 2016, fuelled by a hostile anti-immigrant climate, suggest that numbers of undocumented young people are likely to be much higher, with figures rising.

Many of these young people are born in the UK or have spent most of their formative years here, and consider themselves to be British. Most do not identify as ‘immigrant’ or ‘migrant’ or any other label imposed on them by virtue of immigration laws. Indeed, they may not be aware of their precarious citizenship until they leave school and try to apply for bank accounts, jobs, benefits, college placements or university, or when they are leaving care or following a family breakdown.

Why does precarious citizenship matter?

The discriminatory character of immigration law means for many of these young people, despite being settled in the UK for many years, once they reach adulthood their very identity may be brought into question and many will be unable to secure their citizenship.

Instead, without citizenship or lawful status young people will face barriers in accessing vital support such as healthcare, social care, food and shelter. The impact of such measures means that many will be vulnerable to exploitation and destitution, unable to seek protection from harm, and may even face forced removal from the UK to countries they have never seen or that they have little knowledge about.

The challenge of precarious citizenship in care

Children are placed into the care of the state for varying reasons: for their own protection, having suffered a history of abuse or because of other child protection concerns, death or disappearance of parent or because the whereabouts of their family is unknown.

Because of their particular vulnerabilities, the government, as these children’s corporate parent, recognises the need for special measures to provide them with optimum life chances. Recent examples include an increase in support for young care leavers aged 18 and above so that they can stay on with their foster families if continuing on into further education, known as the ‘staying put arrangements’, and a commitment, announced in the Queen’s speech on 18 May 2016, to ensure that young people get the best start in life through a new ‘Care Leavers Covenant’ which will increase support provision, collective responsibility and local authority accountability.

However, the tightening grip of hostile immigration law now seeks to target categories of these young people based on their immigration status. The Immigration Act 2016 explicitly excludes young undocumented care leavers from the full range of support offered under the care leaver provisions of the Children Acts, purposefully creating a separate, lesser standard of care for undocumented children based on their migration status, in contravention of the principle that the government’s duties run to all children in the UK, equally and without discrimination.

The total number of such children in the UK care system is unknown. Although local authorities are required to keep tally of the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children and trafficked children in their care, these requirements do not necessarily exist for the broader population of children who enter the care system and whose immigration status may not be secure.

At the same time, many undocumented children and young people are forced to navigate complex immigration and legal systems alone, because despite their heightened vulnerability, legal aid necessary to obtain advice on how to regularise their status and access protection and support has been taken out of scope for these young people. This is the case even though they are in the care of the local authority, and without any family support.

The precarious citizenship conference

The Migrant and Refugee Children’s Legal Unit (MiCLU) at Islington Law Centre and Birkbeck, University of London believe that powerful lessons can be learned from anti-racism movements in the UK, Europe and the US which can be linked to the current struggle to achieve justice for these young people who are separated, settled and undocumented in the UK.

MiCLU and Birkbeck have organised a free one-day conference on 1 June 2016 at the University of London, which aims to bring together young activists, academics and practitioners to share empirical and theoretical knowledge and tactics to understand how to advocate and organise around justice for young people with precarious citizenship.

The conference will explore the unique profiles of this group of young people and examine the impact of immigration laws on their lives and the implications for their care, support, development and livelihoods.

Speakers will include Dr Nando Sigona, Senior Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow at the University of Birmingham and Deputy Director of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity and the IRR’s Director Liz Fekete. Participating organisations include: The Prince’s Trust, British Association of Social Workers, Doctors of the World, Centrepoint, The Children’s Society, Let Us Learn at Just for Kids Law, SHAKE! Young Voices in Arts, Media, Race and Power, Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) and many more.

Baljeet Sandhu is the Founding Director of Migrant & Refugee Children’s Legal Unit (MiCLU) and recognised as one of the UK’s leading lawyers on children’s rights in the field of asylum and immigration law. Baljeet is an expert advisor for (among others) the Asylum and Immigration Advisory Board of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England and the Strategic Legal Fund for Vulnerable Young Migrants.

Jennifer Ang is the Legal Education Officer for MiCLU and works as a solicitor in the field of immigration and asylum law, specialising in working with unaccompanied and trafficked children and young people. Jennifer is also a lecturer in Law with the Open University in Scotland and a part-time legal advisor with Freedom from Torture’s Glasgow Centre.

Related links

Registration is free but ticketed: Click here to register

Further details of the conference agenda available here

To receive updates on refugee and migrant children’s rights and early notice of free training from MiCLU, click here to sign up for our newsletter

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

One thought on “A call to action: supporting young people with precarious citizenship

  1. Thank you for making such important points more widely known, even considered vital for my family indirectly in the context of “attitudes” suffered by young people, as with the woman accosted in Exeter (as shown on national television yesterday morning) and, even more sadly, the death of the sixteen years of age female student in Plymouth who had reportedly suffered racism for at least approximately two years before her death.
    Last night my younger son aged 10 years asked “Why does it seem I am being made victim of racist attacks, causing my work to suffer when I am away from school because of attacks?”; he, like his brother aged 13 years and also bullied since 4 years of age for racially motivated/anti-Roman Catholic reasons, was born in Wales but with English father and mother originally Filipino (although British within 39 months of coming to Wales as my wife)and even I (at sixty-seven years of age) this week, when cutting the roadside grass verge in the cul-de-sac where we made our (newly built) family home in 2002, found myself aggressively confronted by a male driver of car when it had accelerated past the entrance to our driveway (where cars/pedestrians from three homes join the highway from behind hedges so not visible until cars unable to stop in time even at the 30mph limit in village where some cars recorded at 60mph in the past) and I had gestured politely for driver to slow down approaching the driveway – his opening words as he strode towards me had been “We go back a long way”, as he had claimed to own a car I had asked be removed from a pavement that had been blocking a “drop kerb” access point for a disabled lady’s electric wheelchair in 2002! In part I hope that the aggressor will “end up in a coroner’s court” – as the deceased, as I have suggested to the police and even the Police & Crime Commissioner seen four times to date without any “known” successful outcomes and I await my first meeting with the newly elected one to discuss how such racism may probably, even at schools, continue to encourage “radicalisation” IF laws and reasonable behaviour fail to work in any even (pleasant area normally assumed)small rural community where “everybody knows each other” and still the “mob” attitude produces “Bully for Wales” reactions from some “better connected” persons as “the system works for them”.
    My younger son fell from a climbing frame last September and his “Headteacher” (one word in use at school) approached his own usual teacher with the words “Is he dead?”, before all the defective equipment had been replaced, at cost of over £8,000, as I quoted in an “Equalities meeting”, subsequently organised by Powys County Council that has received my complaints about attacks on our home/family since its Public Safety Committee meeting on 12th July 2005, producing minutes suggesting that, according to the then Chief Executive’s opinion, enough time had been spent on our case; the Public Services Ombudsman upheld my complaint, as did the General Medical Council after a GP, the day of a Strategy Hearing on 11th December 2007, had suggested our sons could be “taken away” if I wrote one more letter to my elder son’s school about HIS perceptions (when just 5 years old) about bullying – EVEN with photographs of his injuries and changed seating on the, contracted by Powys County Council, “school” bus after one attack on him; one helpful parent (with two students at such Primary school) telephoned to tell me there were four other bullied “victims” on the bus and four bullies – prompting my question “What did the tenth one come with Swiss neutrality and a flag?”
    I tell my wife that we, as a fully fit family, are “lucky” when disability hate crimes seem to exceed racially motivated attacks in recent years at least; I can only “guess” what would have happened if, as I had been expecting, the “road rage” type driver had attacked me when, unusually as on a warm summer’s afternoon, I had not been wearing clothing other than shorts when normally I carry a small camera – concealed, as with those “fitted” to our car attacked seriously on at least three occasions including once by woman driver with no hands on steering wheel as my sons turned their camera on her “tailgating”, on wet road at over 50mph, car that “earned” her 3 penalty points and fine JUST for the mobile phone use – not for pretending to do her hair with the other hand – as clearly shown in the data from our “fitted” to the car camera!
    My family are extremely grateful for IRR producing the published examples of what braver (than us) people have to contend with in their “daily lives”. At least now, when my sons wake up in our rural home – fully “security” fenced (barbed wire topped) and with over 300 beech trees to reduce unauthorised access overnight (usually successful), including locked gate (dusk to dawn), with CCTV cameras visible and widely known about locally, the younger one will have an “EXCUSE” to return to school after current “half term” holiday, with explanation for “Is he dead? Heasdteacher” of knowing his dad tried to make his problems known beyond Mid Wales. “The school” even seems to have prevented the, originally offered by “Mr Inclusion” at Powys County Council, work being “sent” home during his absence following latest attacks at his school/on bus – possibly “nicely coordinated by mob”. Also there had been a suggestion that the “school” needed a medical (after Minor Injuries’ nurse examination and GP’s confirmation of wrist injury after one attack at school) certificate from the GPs’ surgery in the same small town (voted one of the best places to live seemingly recently) and with one of the GPs on the Board of Governors; the wife of the GP who had threatened our children could be taken away (on 11th December 2007 in our home when our elder son at the school in nearby town with his surgery there before “switched” from designated by local authority one) is seemingly on the “Friends of the School” body (with at least one son at the school)that funded the total replacement of equipment in area where our younger son fell causing his “soft tissue” head injury on 7th September 2015 and I have just read the “Play Area Safety Inspection Report” (dated 19 May 2015)with even better photographs of the damaged/worn items than my injured son took with a small camera (as I watched from the right of way on the schools’ campus shared with the High School at which my elder son now attends); it is a pity the replacement equipment had not been installed in time to prevent my son’s injury from the fall last September, but that it possibly why seemingly a solicitor is now on the Primary school’s Board of Governors – I hope my son’s injury claim has not “up-set” her or other such “interested” persons!
    Graham Riches, Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute (1979 by examinations taken since 1968)

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