Report finds significant law, policy, and practice gaps exist in understanding and addressing childhood statelessness
Informative new European Network on Statelessness report examines childhood statelessness in the UK
29 July 2021
The European Network on Statelessness (ENS) last week published an informative and useful new report on childhood statelessness in the UK.
You can read the 40-page report here.
For the report, ENS embarked on a year-long project (supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation) and undertook a literature review, conducted desk-based research, and consulted a range of stakeholders with expertise in issues relating to children's rights, migration, refugees, and stateless persons.
ENS explained: "At this crucial time of immigration, asylum, and nationality law reform in the UK, this report presents the findings of our scoping work with the aim of contributing to the evidence base on childhood statelessness in the UK, raising awareness about who may be affected, supporting those working with children and young people to identify and respond to statelessness, and advocating for evidence-based solutions to prevent and reduce childhood statelessness in the UK."
It is not known how many children in the UK are stateless or at risk of statelessness, but studies estimate that over 200,000 children living in the UK have no British citizenship or permission to remain in the UK.
ENS notes that childhood statelessness in the UK is not currently adequately understood by many, including government officials, legal practitioners and judges. While there are several routes to British citizenship for stateless children, these are not widely known or understood.
The report aims to help address the knowledge gap, and it includes a look at relevant international, regional, and domestic law, policy and jurisprudence.
Amongst the report's recommendations is that access to free, high quality legal advice on citizenship matters should be improved.
ENS's research found that many stakeholders reported that barriers to accessing competent legal assistance prevented some stateless children from accessing either leave to remain in the UK as a stateless person or British citizenship.
The report states: "Early access to competent legal advice on statelessness and nationality issues can make an enormous difference. It can avoid children and families living in poverty for extended periods due to lack of status or citizenship, and avoid families having to pay either legal fees to practitioners who are inexperienced and/ or very high application fees for cases likely to be refused because they do not meet the eligibility requirements. It can ensure that the correct application is made, with sufficient evidence. It can also save government time wasted reviewing incorrect or poorly-evidenced applications and prevent costly and time-consuming judicial review proceedings that may have been unnecessary had a better-evidenced application been made in the first instance. Above all, it can save children and families the frustration and heartbreak that come with refusal."
In concluding the report, ENS said: "The evidence presented in this report indicates that granting British citizenship automatically at birth or very early in life is in the best interests of stateless children and children at risk of statelessness in the UK. Although the UK legal framework establishes important safeguards to prevent statelessness and to protect stateless children, it is evident that there are significant law, policy, and practice gaps and that some children are being failed by the UK Government. Many parents, carers and those working with children who are stateless or at risk of statelessness do not know or understand what the implications are of childhood statelessness nor the importance of resolving a child's nationality status, let alone the evidence required, or procedures available to them. It is vital that the new Nationality and Borders Bill does not create additional hurdles for stateless children to acquire British citizenship as soon as possible after birth. There must be effective legal and practical safeguards in place to ensure that no child living in the UK is left in limbo.
"We want stateless children, who are invisible to some, to have the power to become visible. Our hope – and our challenge to Parliamentarians as the new Bill makes its passage through Parliament – is to help ensure that every stateless child born in or living in the UK is able to acquire British citizenship, without undue challenges, hardships, or delay. Children have no choice in their place of birth or residence. Whatever choices their parents may have made, or whatever actions their parents may have taken or not taken, for whatever reasons, children deserve to be citizens, have a sense of security and belonging, and be able to participate fully in all aspects of life in the country they call home. We should be seeking to ensure that all children in the UK are supported and empowered to achieve their full potential, starting by guaranteeing them British citizenship as early as possible in life. This is in children's best interests and the best interests of us all."