Between Saturday 21 September and Wednesday 25 September the seaside city of Brighton played host to this year’s Labour Party Conference. Following a successful fringe event at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth last week, the International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) once again ventured to the south coast to raise issues relating to citizenship in front of a crowd of policy makers, journalists and representatives of fellow non-governmental organisations.
The True Cost of Citizenship
Over a working lunch on 17 September, IOHR led a discussion on their campaign #ChildrenNotProfit, that calls for the UK to waive citizenship application fees for children. The Home Office currently charges a child £1,012 to apply for citizenship – making a profit of £640 per application. These children may have been born in this country, came here as a refugee or lived here most of their lives and never called anywhere else home. The law recognises their right to be British citizens but this arbitrary limit has been placed between them and their status.
These fees have led parents into debt, overwork and even having to decide which child they can afford to bestow with citizenship. For the child, they are made to feel different from their peers and remain subject to immigration controls that can leave their position in this country precarious.
There is also no necessity for these fees being so high. The cost in the UK is five times the EU-15 average and in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Denmark, citizenship applications for children are free.
They were joined by IOHR Director Valerie Peay, Daily Mirror Associate Editor Kevin Maguire, Erlisa Dajci and Tom Brake MP, who said:
“This is an issue the party is unanimously in support of and now we need to see the cross party infrastructure to push this through”
That same morning the Liberal Democrats passed a conference motion calling for an end to citizenship deprivation, demonstrating their commitment to putting citizenship at the top of their agenda. Motion F- 34 states in its first clause that:
I. People born British should not be deprived of their British citizenship under any circumstances – those who commit crimes should face justice in the UK.
The motion was unanimously supported by the party on the 17 September, demonstrating a beacon of hope for citizenship rights in the UK.
The morning of Monday 23 September began with IOHR’s fringe event: ‘The True Cost of Citizenship’. The panel discussion explored various themes around the issue of citizenship. A particular focus was placed on the issue of barriers to citizenship, such as the high cost of citizenship applications for children, a campaign that IOHR launched in June 2019. The panel also discussed the dangers of denying and depriving citizenship at home and abroad; examining the spread of citizenship deprivation policies and powers that have resulted in cases of statelessness around the world.
The event was expertly moderated by May Bulman of the Independent, with the panel being completed by Valerie Peay, Director of IOHR; George Howarth MP, member of parliament for Knowsley and a former Home Office Minister; Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, who was formerly stateless; Nour Sakr, a lawyer and human rights activist and Michelle Ezeuko, who provided her first hand account of how the Home Office’s fees and procedures have impacted her life.
The panel first focused on the rising fees for childrens citizenship applications, encapsulated in IOHR’s #ChildrenNotProfit campaign. The testimonial of Michelle Ezeuko was invaluable in highlighting how the Home Office’s immigration policies and associated fees are having a detrimental effect on children and their families.
Michelle came to the UK from Nigeria at the age of nine, after completing the required 10 years to apply for citizenship, some poor legal advice resulted in her application being denied and the clock being restarted at zero. She was initially threatened with deportation and is now required to go through this whole process again, despite the law recognising her right to British citizenship.
“My perception of home and where I belong is the UK…there is no money or time to establish links to my mother country, so I have always considered myself to be British.” – Michelle Ezeuko
George Howarth MP indicated that a Labour government would be open to reviewing these fees should they come to power. These sentiments were echoed, and in fact enhanced, later in the conference by Afzal Khan, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary both committing to bring these fees down to “at least” the cost of processing an application.
Guests were shown an IOHR TV production on the topic of these fees. The film featured the story of Euen, who has been selling t-shirts in a bid to save money for his daughters citizenship application, and a Syrian family who had been brought to the country through the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme.
The father of this family, Mr. Bassam said:
“I have five children, so it is a big issue for a family of seven. It’s almost £11,000. I would need three to four years to be able to save this money”.
The focus of the panel then switched to the deprivation of citizenship and the risks of statelessness. Those in attendance heard Tun Khin recount first-hand his experience of statelessness as he laid out the harrowing situation facing the Rohingya. Stories like Tun’s highlight the impact of being made stateless, and outline the protections citizenship provides. Cases such as his provide further evidence that the UK government should ensure all those eligible to become British citizens are not prevented from doing so because of arbitrary barriers.
Watch the IOHR TV report on the issue of child citizenship fees. The film covers the stories of families struggling to meet the costs of applying for their children’s citizenships and speaks to policy makers and experts working on this issue.
Note: The International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR) applied to host a fringe event at this year’s Conservative Party Conference but was rejected without explanation. IOHR is committed to working with individuals across the political spectrum to further human rights and does not align itself with any political party.
For more on IOHR’s party conference fringe events watch the IOHR TV coverage below:
IOHR Liberal Democrat party conference fringe event
IOHR Labour party conference fringe event