Hostile reception

The plight of asylum-seeking children new to the UK is
exacerbated by recent laws that seem designed to exclude them from
health care, education and welfare services, suggests Pamela

Ending social exclusion and child poverty are high on the
political agenda. But one group of children seems to have been left
out of the debate – those who have recently arrived in the UK. Over
the past decade a series of legislative amendments have resulted in
many of these children being excluded from the protection of the
state. Like Victoria Climbie many of them miss out on healthcare
and education, and never come into contact with professionals who
might help to protect them. They are often even without the basic
provision of a roof above their head and food to eat.

For example an unaccompanied asylum seeker aged 15 was refused
help under the Children Act 1989 because his council did not
believe that he was a child. Yet he was unable to obtain asylum
support because the Home Office considered that he was a child. He
was suffering from depression and living in a run down B&B in
London. He was scared to leave his room for fear of what lay
outside and scared to remain in his room because it was infested
with mice. The boy had not been visited by anyone for months.

In another case we came across a woman who had been tortured in
Iran, physically and mentally disabled, had been without any means
of support for herself or her seven-year-old child for two months.
She had sought help from many agencies, both statutory and
voluntary, but each told her that she was not their responsibility.
She and her child survived on food given by other asylum

The Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, introduced in April 2000,
prevents most newly arrived non-Europeans from obtaining benefits
or housing and provides accommodation only to those who agree to
being dispersed away from London. Many asylum seekers do not leave
London because they receive support from established communities.
They may have witnessed the death or torture of family members,
lost their homes, careers and status and feel unable to cope with
further loss and movement. Such experiences would put great strain
on family life anywhere but without any support network, or money
to help rebuild their lives the effect is severe. Traumatic
experiences affect people’s ability to care for their children.
Apart from any physical ill-health, they may be depressed,
forgetful, and withdrawn and may find it hard to participate in
daily life. The organisations Family Rights Group advise suggest
there is a high incidence of domestic violence both in asylum
seeking families and in those where one parent is subject to
immigration controls, having been admitted to the UK as a “spouse”
with limited leave to remain.

Asylum seekers’ removal from the benefit system compounds the
problem because it forces them into a transient lifestyle. This
causes difficulty in terms of finding health care or education, and
makes it difficult for any agency to build up a relationship with
the family or the child. Many newly arrived children cannot
register with a GP – often because the GP is unwilling to take on a
family in temporary accommodation. A similar picture emerges in
respect of education. Many of the community groups the FRG works
with say children often cannot get school places for months or

The plight of these children is exacerbated by the attitudes of
many local authorities. When their families seek help they are
often turned away and wrongly informed that their immigration
status excludes them from help. In fact the Children Act allows for
a range of support if a child is in need or at risk, including cash
payments under section 17. Asylum seekers are only excluded if
receiving asylum support, and other children whose families are
subject to immigration controls have the same rights as all other

The National Assistance Act 1948 places a duty on councils to
accommodate anyone in need. Asylum seekers are only excluded if
their need arises because of destitution but many require help for
other reasons such as disability, illness or as a “nursing

FRG believes the best interests of children should be key to all
policy-making decisions regarding children. We consider that the
way to ensure children’s safety is to restore basic safety net
benefits and to ensure that statutory agencies’ responsibilities
for welfare apply to all children, irrespective of their
immigration status.

Pamela Fitzpatrick is policy adviser at
the Black and Ethnic Minorities Advice Agencies Project at Family
Rights Group. Family Rights Group advises families who are involved
with social services.

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