VULNERABLE: Stateless young people are being exploited in the UK
HUNDREDS OF young people are being forced into petty crime, sex work and homelessness because they cannot prove their nationality according to a leading charity.
AFRUCA (Africans Unite Against Child Abuse) says that every year children from Africa and other parts of the world arrive in the UK without passports or any documentation to prove who they are. Without these documents, they are classified as stateless and then face problems such as not being able to open a bank account, register for college or work.
According to AFRUCA founder Debbie Ariyo, increasing numbers of young people in this situation are becoming vulnerable to being exploited by criminals because they feel they have no other option.
She said: “There are two reasons for this problem arising. The first is when a young person is trafficked into the country. Because of the way they have been brought into here they feel they have no control. What often happens is that the person who brings them to the UK withholds their documents. If they manage to get away from the traffickers, it’s not uncommon to find them engaged in illegal activities such as cannabis planting or selling illegal dvds because they feel they can’t do anything else. Then there are other situations where a relative has brought someone to the UK using false documents. They are staying with a family but really they are being exploited as domestic servants. When the relationship breaks down and they are thrown out of the house that’s when they are likely to find themselves homeless or get involved in crime because there is often no way they can prove who they are.”
One recent case that Ariyo worked on which highlights the nature of the problem involved a young mother-of-one who arrived in the UK with false documents arranged by a relative.
“Someone in the community rang me to say that a young woman was being physically abused by her boyfriend” she said. “I was given a number to call and when I first spoke to her all I could hear was shouting and arguments going on. When I was eventually able to speak to her I found out that although she was living with this older man, he wasn’t really her boyfriend. However she stayed with him because he was able to accommodate her. In return she cooked for him and had sex with him. He didn’t allow her to go out and when she did he was very particular about who she was allowed to see. She eventually ran away but the only way she felt she could survive was to go from one man to another allowing herself to be abused. I asked why she just didn’t go to the police and she said she was afraid that she and her son would be deported. A lot of people in this situation have this false belief that this is what will happen to them if they ask for help.
There are lot of young girls in the same situation So we need to be doing more in our community’s to let people know about the dangers to children.”
CONCERNS: AFRUCA’s Debbie Ariyo
Ariyo added: “The fact that they don’t have the right documentation doesn’t mean they will be deported. What they need is a good immigration lawyer to help them put forward some kind of application to the authorities.”
Many of the cases that AFRUCA has worked on over the past year have occurred in London. However the charity has worked with several stateless children in Yorkshire and the north-west.
In a bid to raise awareness of the issue, AFRUCA will be hosting an event at the House of Commons with Hackney South MP Meg Hillier on July 1st child trafficking and private fostering in the African community.
The charity is also working with a number of churches in the Yorkshire and Greater Manchester regions to help them better identify and help children and young people who may be at risk of being abused and exploited.
The move has been welcomed by organisations working with young refugee and asylum seekers. However Judith Dennis from the Refuge Council believes that any moves to address the problem must involve local authorities.
She said: “Local authorities clearly have a duty of care to provide for children and young people who are homeless or being exploited. But often they want them to claim asylum because they’ll then get a grant paid for them to look after that child. I’m not saying that local authorities don’t want to look after them but they sometimes worry that they’re not going to get any funding for them and so will be reluctant to recognise straight away that they are children in need of help. So there is often a delay in getting them the support that they need.”
She added: “Of course if they don’t have any proof of who they are, it will be difficult for them to even access any kind of local authority support in the first place.”