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The right to not be left behind: Brexit and the children of EU nationals

A new report from Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC) highlights the risk that 900,000 EU national children in the UK may be required to prove that they have the right to remain in the UK after Brexit. Of these children, 285,000 were born in the UK, so the idea of declaring their right to remain may not even occur to them. Children in care homes and foster care are the most at risk.

Currently, children need to have been born in the UK or living in the country for more than five years to be granted settled immigration status. If they are not able to prove this by the end of the Brexit transaction period, which falls on either 31 December 2020 or 30 June 2021, then these EU nationals could become undocumented and given pre-settled status

This would mean that they will have be stuck in an administrative limbo without access to basic services or rights in the UK, not be able to stay and therefore could be deported to a country that they have no connection with.

In 2018 the UK Government piloted the EU Settlement Scheme for any EU citizens wanting to remain living in the UK. If EU nationals without a UK permanent residence document want to apply during the pilot period before 30 March 2019, they will have to pay a small fee that will be refunded. Children with an EU passport will also have to apply for the scheme.

The Settlement Scheme is meant to be easier than the original immigration process, which has been criticised by the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium, a coalition of over 50 organisations working collaboratively to promote the rights of refugees and migrant children and young people in the UK. Their criticism stems from the fact that under successive governments, the immigration system in the UK has become increasingly “complex and adversarial”, particularly with immigration measures developed under the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy which was first announced by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2012. The Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium said that this policy,

has not been “effective either in tackling irregular migration nor in alleviating public concerns about immigration”.

In January 2019, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The EU Settlement Scheme will ensure all EU citizens living in the UK will have a status granted by the Home Office which they can use to demonstrate their right to work, housing and benefits. It will be simple and straightforward for EU citizens to get the status they need. They will only need to complete three key steps – prove their identity, show that that they live in the UK, and declare any criminal convictions.”

However the CCLC report counters this claim with a statement that reads, “Although the Government has repeatedly asserted that the application process will be ‘straightforward and streamlined […] During a recent pilot of the scheme aimed at vulnerable individuals, CCLC found that in a fifth of cases the child did not have the necessary documentation and more than half of cases required detailed advice on immigration and nationality law that could only be provided by qualified legal professionals.”

The CLCC report calls for the following measures to be taken to ensure that vulnerable children receive the support they need to achieve permanent status:

  • Local authorities should take positive steps to identify European national children in their care and assist them to access identity documents, legal advice and representation.
  • The Government should not require EU national children who are eligible to register as British citizens to pay a fee to do so;
  • Legal aid should be made available for all EU national children and young people’s cases

A UK Parliamentary hearing, for the 2017 – 2019 period, by the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium, stated that: “As set out in our submission to the Windrush review, over the years the consortium and its members have continued to highlight the dangers that face undocumented children in the UK. Without the necessary safeguards put into place, bringing an additional 3-4 million people into this system comes with an unprecedented risk to wellbeing, putting vulnerable European residents in the UK – among them hundreds of thousands of children and young people – at significant risk.”

The Home Office is trying hard to create a façade of control and simplicity in a time of chaotic political turmoil. It promotes its EU Settlement Scheme as “simple and straightforward” and promises that with regards to “looked after children” who are EU citizens, “No one will be left behind”.

However, can we really trust a government that has created a hostile environment towards anyone that does not fall under what a “British” national in their eyes is supposed to be? We only need to look to the deportations of the Windrush generation, to see that quite a lot of people’s past has been forgotten and that they have indeed been “left behind”.

On 23 March an estimated one million people took to the streets of London to demand a fresh Brexit referendum. Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton and an advocate for a People’s Vote, said on Sunday,

“Marches matter and our protest yesterday, one of the greatest demonstrations Britain has ever seen, was simply too big for anyone to ignore.”

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