Young refugees are being sucked into a hidden world of destitution and exploitation due to a lack of support, according to research published today by The Children’s Society.
The charity’s report, I Don’t Feel Human, found increasing numbers of young migrants who have been refused asylum in the UK are left to fend for themselves on the streets.
In many cases, they end up being sucked into crime, prostitution or exploitative work.
Young refugees are often refused access to health services, housing and children’s social services, the report found. Many are forced to live on section 4 support – a short-term voucher-based payment that is meant for adults.
Many live in squalor or on the streets because social services incorrectly believe they are adults or refuse to provide support when they leave care at the age of 18, the report suggests.
In one case highlighted in the report, an unaccompanied 15-year-old girl from Cameroon received no care for 15 months because it was thought she was over 18. By the time she was able to prove her age she had been sexually abused and become pregnant.
The government must do more to protect this vulnerable group, the charity warned, calling for the problem to be treated as a priority child protection issue.
“We estimate 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 Enver Solomon, policy director at The Children’s Society.
He accused local authorities and the UK Border Agency of flouting their duty to safeguard these children, who he said are treated “as though they have some kind of second-class status that does not entitle them to the necessary protection and support”.
“The uncomfortable truth is that children are being left hungry and homeless at acute risk without recourse to sufficient support. This must be recognised as a priority child protection issue,” Solomon said.
Leaving care services should be open to all children, regardless of their immigration status, and support should continue until they turn 21 or 24, if they are in education, the report recommended.
The charity also wants the government to introduce cash-based support for these young people and ensure they have access to legal advice.
The British Association of Social Workers said it was a "national scandal" that vulnerable children seeking sanctuary in the UK are "ending up in such perilous situations".
“The government was quick to call for an end of children in the asylum process being detained; the deputy prime minister equally needs to draw attention to the destitution experienced by children, young people and families subject to immigration controls, and take urgent action to put an end to this appalling state of affairs,’ said BASW professional officer Nushra Mansuri.
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