YOUNG refugees and migrants to the UK are facing alarming levels of destitution, a report from the Children’s Society suggests.
The report, I Don’t Feel Human, says that the Society has seen a “noticeable rise” in the number of child-migrants seeking its help.
It blames the increase on tough policies introduced by the last government, which cut benefits for asylum-seekers in order to dissuade them from coming to the UK.
The report says that in six months last year more than a third of the young refugees supported by one of its projects in London were destitute — compared with 14 per cent the year before.
Destitution is defined as the lack of regular access to essential resources such as food, clothing, toiletries, medicine, and a place to live.
The author of the report, Illona Pinter, said: “Forced destitution has been a deliberate policy to try and reduce what were seen to be the ‘incentives’ for those coming to the UK to claim asylum.
“The current Government continues to withdraw and withhold support to refused asylum-seekers as a way to expedite their return to their country of origin. This leaves many thousands of people, including children and young people, who cannot return to their country of origin, destitute for prolonged periods of time, sometimes several years, and without access to even the most basic welfare support.”
Children in their earliest years, and teenagers, are those being most damaged by destitution, she said.
Interviews with young migrants by the Society revealed many with mental-health problems, and self-harming and suicide attempts. Others had been forced into sexual relationships in exchange for shelter or food.
The policy director of the Society, Enver Solomon, said: “We estimate that thousands of children exist in the shadow of our communities, having their lives damaged by an approach that irresponsibly prioritises immigration-control over the best interests of our children.
“The UK Border Agency and local authorities have a duty to safeguard these children who are no less deserving than any other. Yet it appears they are being treated as though they have some kind of second-class status that does not entitle them to the necessary protection and support.”
The charity is calling on the Government to institute new cash-based support for asylum-seekers and those who have been refused asylum, to ensure that “no child has to survive below an acceptable level”.
The UK Border Agency said that it took the welfare of children “extremely seriously”. Support was offered to asylum-seekers until a decision had been made in their case.