The Home Office vortex of bureaucratic contradiction leaves little hope for the hundreds of homeless children in the UK who have no citizenship
Initially, the recent news stories about ‘stateless children’, although alarming, sounded all too familiar. Somebody somewhere has identified a sub-strata of society that has fallen through a gap in the welfare state’s increasingly unreliable safety net. No less tragic for being familiar, but familiarity does give it an air of hopelessness.
However, the concept of statelessness is a particularly strange one. It generally refers to people who have migrated and never been officially registered in their new home. Whether migrants from the USSR struggling to gain citizenship in old Soviet satellite states they once called home, or a refugee caught between conflicting nationality laws, the term almost always refers to people of two nations: country A in which they were born, and country B in which they now live and seek citizenship.
Different people have different kinds of ‘statelessness’. Some of these people were born in Britain and have never lived anywhere else. However, their circumstances are such that they are not officially British citizens, and also have no ‘home’ country upon whose bureaucracy they can rely on in order to prove their own legal existence.
The media reports centre largely on an individual known as Tony, whom having been turfed out by his parents, often sleeps in parks or on buses and can gain no access to social housing. So extreme is his situation that it simply cannot be commonplace, otherwise it would already be an issue of which we are all aware. We are therefore forced to ask ourselves what it is that sets this growing minority apart from all the other young people rejected by their guardians and forced to fend for themselves.
The difference between other ‘homeless’ people and ‘stateless’ people like Tony is that the former have paperwork. Even though their lives are devoid of proper parenting, their existence was at least communicated to the state in one way or another, usually at birth. Armed with that proof, those children can – depending on their age – be taken into care by the local authority and apply for assistance from the state. Despite their unfortunate circumstances, they are at least able to access and benefit from this country’s support system.
Stateless children, however, face an entirely different predicament. Having never been formally introduced to the state, they find themselves unsheltered and unable to prove their own existence. For example, if you were born in the UK before January 1983 but did not yet have British citizenship and wanted to apply for it, the relevant UKBA form (S3) requires:
1) Evidence that you have been stateless from birth
You should send a letter from the authorities of the country in which you were born stating that you are not, and never have been, a citizen of that country.
2) Evidence that you were born in the United Kingdom or a British overseas territory on or after 1 January 1983
You should send your birth certificate.
3) Evidence that you have been in the United Kingdom or British overseas territories during the five-year period before your application
You should send your passport or passports (including your stateless person’s travel documents) which cover the whole three year period. If you cannot do this, please explain why and send as much as you can of the following to cover the three-year period:
letters from your employer; and
letters from schools or other educational establishments you attended;
a letter from HM Revenue & Customs National Insurance Contributions Office showing you have paid National Insurance contributions; and
P60 forms or a letter from HM Revenue & Customs showing you have paid tax; and
any other documents which show you lived in the United Kingdom or the British overseas territory.
It is a state of affairs so fraught with contradiction that it is extraordinarily frustrating to research, let alone live out. For example, if you had a birth certificate, as the above list requires, are you really stateless by definition? If you exist on a Home Office database, obtain a P60 or have a passport, the chances of you being stateless are close to nil.
There isn’t a section that accounts for people who were born in the UK but were never registered as a citizen or, indeed, as anything else. This seems like a fairly enormous oversight, which might explain the rapid growth of the problem. Safe ‘N’ Sound estimate that one tenth of London’s children were never officially registered at birth, and that must be a pretty vague estimate because we’re dealing with a statistic that is immeasurable by definition.
According to Inside Out London, registering one’s presence retrospectively is said to be “virtually impossible”. Certainly, when you follow the logic you find yourself in a vortex of bureaucratic contradiction. For access to social housing you need at least two forms of identity and a current address, so that’s out. In fact, to receive any kind of state help you need to provide some form of identification. Similarly, in order to obtain a national insurance number, you either need to be taken on by an employer – hard enough even with an address and a CV – or register as self-employed, for which, again, you have to be able to prove who you are and where you live.
When you’re technically nobody and live nowhere, you’re faced with the bizarre task of having to prove you’ve never been anybody in order to prove that you are somebody. Consider the following from the requirements listed above: “You should send a letter from the authorities of the country in which you were born stating that you are not, and never have been, a citizen of that country.”
Where to begin? How does that country know you were born there if you were never a citizen? To what address are they supposed to send the letter?
There are all kinds of systems and networks established for people who are stateless in the traditional sense, such as Alien passports. But in what is becoming quite a familiar refrain, they require proof of birth in their country of origin. History is full of diasporic tales, but they almost always concern migrants and two countries: an origin and a destination.
Tony and those like him are essentially refugees in their own country. As such, their circumstances make a dark mockery of the Home Office’s attempts to document their existence, because every avenue requires proof of existence from the start.
It is an understatement to say that it is in the state’s interest to solve this problem as soon as possible. It is without doubt that citizens who feel no affinity to their country, have no relationship with the state and therefore nothing vested in it are more likely to fall foul of it. This is not necessarily because they feel abandoned by it, but because they have no choice. In Tony’s situation, with no home, money or protection, exactly how is he supposed to feed himself? The report for Inside Out London was unequivocal in saying that stateless children are more likely turn to crime and/or prostitution than their registered counterparts. It is a matter of survival and nothing else.
Whatever angle you examine this problem from, it is clear that there is yet another gaping hole in our social security net. This is only one of a plethora of examples of the need to re-examine it, but the circumstances of stateless children are less of a problem and more of an emergency.
Image from: http://www.casa-alianza.org.uk/northsouth/CasaWeb.nsf/LandingPages/Shelter-Children?OpenDocument
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