A new report by the Children’s Society reveals alarming levels of destitution among refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant children and young people.
The organisation says that vulnerable young people are being left homeless, hungry and forced to resort to increasingly desperate means in order to survive. The report, entitled I Don’t Feel Human, says that this can result in exploitation and abuse in many forms.
A rising number of children who have nowhere to live - and no source of financial support - are turning to the Children’s Society for help. Between April and September 2011, more than a third (34 per cent) of young refugees supported by the Children’s Society New Londoners project were destitute - compared with 14 per cent in the previous year (2009-10).
The group says that young people who were destitute reported serious illness and mental health problems. Some young people self-harmed and attempted suicide. Other young people supported by Children’s Society services have even been forced into sexual relationships in exchange for shelter or food.
Destitute families with very young children, but no access to work or welfare support because of immigration restrictions, are living in severe deprivation for long periods of time, in some cases for several years. The report draws attention to the fact that this is happening in the crucial early years of their life.
“We estimate that thousands of children exist in the shadows of our communities, having their lives damaged by an approach that irresponsibly prioritises immigration control above the best interests of children,” said the Children’s Society Policy Director Enver Solomon.
The Children’s Society say that the UK Border Agency and local authorities have a duty to safeguard these children “who are no less deserving than any other”.
Solomon argued that “it appears that they are being treated as though they have some kind of second-class status that does not entitle them to the necessary protection and support”.
The Children’s Society is calling for immediate action to make sure that children and young people in the immigration system are not forced to live in destitution. They say that the government should also urgently review the levels of support provided so that children and young people seeking protection are not forced to live in absolute poverty and despair.
“Often having fled danger in their country of birth, they are exposed to great dangers in this country because they lack a sufficient safety net,” said Solomon, “Far too many are being forced to fend for themselves having slept rough, been victims of violence on the streets, or coerced into sexual relationships with strangers just for a place to stay”.