We are pleased to welcome Kamena Dorling, Group Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Coram as our guest blogger to help us mark International Migrants Day 2019. Pears Foundation has supported Coram since 2013 and made additional grants to the Migrant Children’s Project since 2016.
For many organisations advocating for the better treatment of children in the UK, the country’s impending departure from the EU has been a significant obstacle to change. Brexit has dominated government time and energy. It has raised questions about the rights of the hundreds of thousands of EU national children living in the UK. At the start of 2019, some hoped that the Immigration White Paper and new Immigration Bill might present opportunities to push for a fairer, more accessible system for EU and non-EU citizens alike and to try to dismantle some of the policies that harm children. Sadly, after a year of political uncertainty we have seen little positive change. With a stronger Conservative government and Brexit now inevitable, the need to advocate for and with young migrants is greater than ever.
Pears Foundation generously funds Coram to call for a future immigration system that upholds children’s rights and ensure that children and young people, and those caring for them, are empowered to take steps to secure their futures in the UK. We help thousands of children, young people and families each year though the provision of legal advice, guidance and training and we work closely with the Home Office, Department for Education and parliamentarians to create positive change.
Coram has been highlighting the impact of an increasingly punitive immigration system on children since its 2013 report ‘Growing up in a hostile environment’. There are currently over 100,000 undocumented children – living without a regular immigration status – in the UK. Over a half of these children were born here and may be or become eligible for British citizenship. These children have grown up in the UK, it is their home, but they are blocked from securing the citizenship that is their right because of unaffordable application fees. The fee to apply for a child to register as a British citizen, for example, is £1,012 although the cost of processing the application is only £372. Other children and young people ineligible for citizenship are equally blocked from permanent status and from fully participating in society because of a complex and inaccessible system, made worse by the lack of free and quality legal representation and unaffordable application fees.
Extensive media coverage of the Windrush scandal last year shone a light on the toxic consequences of national immigration policy and the ‘hostile environment’ agenda which had cut off access to education, support services, healthcare, housing, legal advice and some of the basic necessities of modern life, such as bank accounts, from those unable to prove their right to be in the UK. Finally it felt as though the impact of, and ideology behind, the hostile environment was being understood and rejected by a growing number of people.
However, this year Coram has been helping children and young people access the EU settlement scheme, the largest-scale registration programme the UK has ever seen, and has witnessed first-hand the scheme’s ongoing problems since it was rolled out nationally in March 2019. We have repeatedly warned that a significant number of young European nationals risk becoming a ‘second Windrush’ generation if they are not supported to take steps to regularise their status. Although the government has asserted that the EU settlement scheme application process is ‘straightforward and streamlined’, many children and young people have complex cases and may not have the right documentation to prove their nationality and length of residence, especially if they live separately from their parents. When the UK leaves the EU, if just 15% of the estimated population of EU national children fail apply to the EU settlement scheme before the end of the Brexit transition period, the population of undocumented children will double overnight.
As we move forward after the general election, it is now vital that policy makers acknowledge the mistakes of the past, the years of Home Office mismanagement and that we currently have an immigration system that is fundamentally broken, especially in failing to integrate children and young people who grow up here. We need more than ever to push for a more humane immigration system, and for an end to the systematic barriers that leave young people living in limbo and cut off from society, including high applications fees and a lack of funded legal advice. Coram will continue to push for change whilst supporting individual children through expert legal support; demand for our specialist services has significantly increased and sadly is unlikely to stop doing so. As a leading centre of legal expertise on issues affecting migrant children, we are committed to extending our reach and working alongside migrant young people to fight for their rights.