Thousands of children living in the UK without legal immigration status are at risk of destitution and exploitation because of contradictory rules and regulations, a report by the University of Oxford has claimed.
Families are being "pushed away" from services designed to protect them. Image: Arlen Connelly
The report found that an estimated 120,000 children with no leave to remain in the UK face barriers to acessing healthcare, education, protection by the police and other public services.
The report: No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK found that so-called "irregular migrant children", more than half of whom were born in the UK and have lived here their entire lives, are trapped between laws that on the one hand protect children and on the other enforce migration control.
Both international and British law guarantees children access to education and healthcare regardless of their immigration status, and oblige public authorities to work in their best interests.
However the report claims that increased demands on public authorities by the UK Border Agency, such as asking social services to report suspected illegal immigrants, are pushing families and children away from services, leaving them more vulnerable and isolated.
It states that children and their families who are victims of serious crime may be afraid to report it to police because of their fears about their immigration status.
Meanwhile, the fact that frontline professionals like GPs and teachers are increasingly being asked to check the legal status of children in their care, can result in the children either not going to school or not participating fully.
Nando Sigona, the main author of the report, which was published by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society at the University of Oxford, said: “Current immigration policy seems to override the concern for children’s rights. Nobody, not the public, nor the children or their families, benefits from this.
“The point of the report is to identify the situation that these children are in, and the difficulties that this places on the public service providers with whom they come into contact.
“Teachers, GPs and social workers should be allowed to do their jobs without having to act as de facto immigration control officer."
Ilona Pinter, policy advisor on young refugees and migrants at The Children's Society, said: “This research shows the harsh reality facing tens of thousands of undocumented migrant children across the UK.
“Denying families access to support and vital services is leaving children hungry, homeless and destitute.
“Regardless of their immigration status, the government has a responsibility to protect all children in the UK”.