Study shows asylum children living in destitution

A new report released at the Church of England's General Synod, by The Children's Society earlier in the week has given a snapshot of the stark reality for child asylum seekers and refugees living in Britain.

'Living on the edge of despair' is a small study that shows children growing up in households without food, heating or toys, mothers forced to prostitute themselves to survive, young people in care cut off from any help at 18 becoming homeless, and pregnant women who cannot afford to eat.

The Children's Society interviewed 13 destitute families and young people and collected eight case studies from other voluntary and statutory organisations. In addition, eight professionals were interviewed to determine the causes and consequences of destitution for children.

Professionals claimed the main cause of destitution was lack of legal representation. This reflects concerns that the legal aid available for asylum seekers is severely restricted and does not allow time to adequately deal with the complex immigration system within UK law.

Ten out of the 13 families interviewed did not receive adequate legal representation during their asylum claim. The professionals interviewed said that in their opinion the lack of proper legal advice was directly responsible for asylum claims failing.

This can leave genuine asylum seekers and their families destitute, unable to work or claim benefits. Some of the parents within the study had experienced rape and torture before arriving in the UK. Many were depressed and felt powerless because they could not care for their children.

Lisa Nandy, policy advisor for The Children's Society said: "This may be a small-scale study but the results are shocking - we found children only eating once a day and parents not eating for several days.

"If the findings of this study reflect the wider experience of asylum-seeking families in the UK then thousands of children are experiencing destitution.

"Regardless of their legal status these are children, entitled to better childhoods and we have a duty to protect and support them as we do all other children in the UK."

The study found children living in dirty, unsafe and overcrowded conditions, transient housing accommodation, and even one family of six housed in a single room.

Many families were in hostels where they were afraid of other residents' behaviour and their property and food was stolen.

Children and their families were found to be living in accommodation without heating or electricity, and in constant fear of return to unsafe countries.

Living in unsafe places was also found to have led to sexual exploitation. Two children in The Children's Society study had been conceived as a result of sexual exploitation. Pregnant women interviewed did not have enough to eat, and one was homeless during her pregnancy.

Bishop Tim Stevens, Chairman of The Children's Society, said: "This report is a shocking indictment on the way we treat some of the country's most vulnerable children.

"The Church has witnessed first hand the terrible levels of destitution facing many asylum seeking families who come to Britain to escape persecution and torture.

"Refugee and asylum-seeking are children first and foremost and should be treated as such. "