Incredibly vulnerable young people are being left homeless, hungry and forced to resort to increasingly desperate means in order to survive, reveals “I don’t feel human: Experiences of destitution among young refugees and migrants”. This can result in exploitation and abuse of many forms.
The new report by The Children’s Society also reveals alarming levels of destitution among refugee, asylum-seeking and migrant children.
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’s New Londoners project were destitute – compared with 14 per cent in the previous year 2009-10.
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 our 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. Importantly, this is happening in the crucial early years of their life.
The Children’s Society Policy Director Enver Solomon said: ‘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.
‘The UK Border Agency and local authorities have a duty to safeguard these children who are no less deserving than any other. Yet 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.
‘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. 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.
‘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 so that these children are given the support and protection they desperately need.’
The Children’s Society has also called for immediate action to make sure that children and young people in the immigration system are not forced to live in destitution.
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, it adds.
The Children’s Society says it wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. `We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways.
`We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young careers. Through our campaigns and research, we seek to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life’.