A call to action: supporting young people with precarious citizenship
May 26, 2016 — Comment
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?
Significant 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.
Registration is free but ticketed: Click here to register
Further details of the conference agenda available here
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The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.