Skip to main content
Skip to main content

Migrant children are suffering. We should end the hostile environment.

Written by
Jack Gevertz, Immigration Advice Service
Date of Publication:
04 March 2019

So, you're a young child in the UK. You are the son or daughter of a migrant who has been living here for many years. You have been made homeless and the council offers you temporary accommodation with rooms infested with rats. There are no washing facilities. The place you're staying at is hundreds of miles away from your school. You cannot speak to your friends easily.

Imagine having to live this life.

Sadly, these reports are the reality for migrant children who are living under the 'hostile environment'. They are subject to border controls when their parents apply for housing, when they go to school and even use the NHS.

According to a report by Project 17, one in four migrant children they had surveyed had been left homeless. Some were given unsuitable temporary accommodation, while others were left in bed and breakfasts or put in housing miles away from where they originally lived.

Local councils, struggling from cutbacks to their budgets and austerity, are not fulfilling their duties under a piece of legislation known as Section 17. This is in the Children Act 1989. What it means is those children who have been identified as 'in need' – meaning they are in bad health or under-developing – are not being given the extra support they and their families need.

This may happen at school, for example. Many migrant children have been denied access to free school meals simply because their parents do not claim a 'qualifying benefit'. For some, access to this food is important as it can be the only meal of the day they should be guaranteed to get. Many migrant families get money that is well below what they should do under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act. That means many families who are in receipt of such payments report being unable to afford basic necessities such as food.

In the classroom itself, the situation is no better. The Home Office has admitted it has asked schools to share the records of 1,500 children a month so it can track who's at school and who isn't. Now that doesn't sound bad does it? Yet, it's led to the racial profiling of some children, and forced some parents to give up data on their child's nationality, despite not being obliged to. In other words, the Home Office is using teachers as Border Force guards to enforce its own immigration rules. The upset this has caused has led some parents to pull their children out of school and deem the education environment unsafe.

For families in the situation of having poor accommodation and a lack of access to safe schools, it can be traumatic to then be threatened with separation. In some cases, reported to Project 17, this action took place while the children were with their parents, adding to the unease and panic. More than 300 children were split from their parents after their parent was detained in the year ending last July, according to figures from the Bail for Immigration Detainees charity. Such action saw some children put into the care system as their sole-parent was no longer able to look after them.

Other children, such as unaccompanied asylum seekers, are not fortunate enough to arrive with parents and so come by themselves. More than 1,600 child asylum seekers who arrived by themselves were waiting more than a year for a decision from the Home Office on their case. One child waited an astonishing two years. The length of these delays is considered so bad it is now facing a challenge in the courts.

There may be legal challenges elsewhere too if the issues with the Government's EU Settlement Scheme remain unresolved. In its current state, the children of EU parents could no longer have the right to remain in the country because the form does not ask parents about their offspring. Their children may not have needed to apply for British citizenship because they may have been a British citizen by descent. But their parents may not know this, so the way the process is currently constructed means they could lose their rights when the UK leaves the EU.

There are even wider concerns that Britain's exit from the European Union could extend the 'hostile environment'. Instead of it simply being focused on non-EU nationals, EU nationals could also end up becoming victims.

The policy then is one of the most inhumane and degrading things that the Home Office has brought in. Then Home Secretary Theresa May was its architect in 2012, and used it as a way to make the UK "a really hostile" place for illegal migrants. But it's not just them who have been affected – as so have those perfectly entitled to be here.

It's clear the impact the hostile environment is having on children is severe and shameful. Leaving them to lay on buses or in A&E departments is not the way the world's fifth richest economy should behave. Politicians should reflect on the hardships faced by migrant children and act to ensure no more are suffering. Ignoring this could lead many more into poverty and destitution, and blight the UK's reputation as an immigration-accepting nation.