Tuesday, November 6, 2012

New Report Draws Attention to UK's Stateless Children

Via Voice of Russia
A new BBC Inside Out episode is causing a flurry in UK news outlets after uncovering a hidden problem: hundreds of stateless children living on London's streets, at risk of exploitation or turning to crime. The report identifies migrant children whom possess no means of identification and are unable to take advantage of social programs, forcing some to turn to crime or prostitution.
One 17-year-old, who fled Libya without her family in 2009, said: “I have to do things that make me sick and ashamed for a few pounds, sometimes even pennies - just so I can eat or get somewhere to sleep for one night.” (The Week)
(If you live in the UK you can watch the clip here.)

This is obviously a horrible problem, but I can't help but wonder: what is the deal with calling all of these kids stateless?
New figures show at least 600 children in the capital are stateless — without a passport or official documentation linking them to their country of residence — and campaigners fear that number is rising.
Many of London’s stateless youths came to the UK legally but were never officially registered, meaning they cannot access education or apply for social housing. For teenagers like 17-year-old Ugandan-born Tony, attempting to become a legal citizen retrospectively can be virtually impossible. (London Evening Standard)
As we know from the 1954 Statelessness Convention, the definition of a stateless person is "a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law" (Art. 1). Not possessing a passport or documents might be a feature of statelessness, but its not enough. For example, Ugandan boy Tony, above, has a Ugandan father who kicked him out of his home at age 14. So although he is in an awful, heart-wrenching situation, Ugandan boy Tony is not "stateless", he is more likely Ugandan, and undocumented.

I bring this up because it may hurt the cause to call all these children stateless when in fact they are more likely "legally invisible," at risk of statelessness, or undocumented. The international human rights laws and UK immigrations laws applying to those groups are different, and are not as generous. If Tony were in fact stateless, and born in the UK, he would have a right to citizenship there that would simplify his problems tremendously. However, being legally invisible or undocumented he has limited options, at least under migration law. And that is a real problem- one that deserves more attention given the human rights issues at stake for these children.

The presence in each of these pieces of a disclaimer that most of the kids actually arrived in the UK legally suggests the reason for such a misnomer. If the kids were "illegal immigrant" homeless, would it be a news story? Does anyone feel sorry for kids with more complicated immigration issues, who aren't refugees or stateless?

If the public is outraged or concerned about this problem, it certainly doesn't help to call it something else to arouse additional sympathy. Its not necessarily the UK's "Homeless Stateless Kids" problem... might be more like the UK's "Homeless Kids" problem. And whether these children are actually stateless, legally invisible, or undocumented, don't they deserve some help in getting off the streets?

Read More:
Mapping Statelessness in the UK (Report from UNHCR and Asylum Aid)
Interview: Nando Sigona of Refugee Studies Centre (The Voice of Russia)
No Home, No Country, No Future: The 600 Stateless Children Living on London's Rough Streets (Evening Standard)
Hundreds of Stateless Children Live on UK City Streets (The Week)

And meanwhile, a report from Greece doesn't mince words: Teenage Migrants Trapped in Greece (IRIN)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Happy Ending for Berlin Refugee Strike?

Image via Der Tagespiegel
The hunger strike of asylum seekers/ refugees at Berlin's famous Brandenberg Gate has come to an end after 8 days, following a long discussion yesterday evening between strikers and politicians. This is a highpoint but hopefully not the conclusion, of over a year of hardcore activism on refugee issues in Germany.

The protest, which followed last month's march throughout Germany, aimed in general to call attention to the plight of refugees in Germany but it also had several key specific demands (a full list can be found here.) Namely, to stop deportations, close refugee "camps" (holding facilities for asylum seekers, often in the middle of nowhere), recieve working permits and permission to learn German, and above all, to abolish the Residenzpflicht

Residenzpflicht is a long standing policy applying to asylum seekers that limits their freedom of movement while their asylum applications are being processed. They may not leave the administrative zone where they have first registered in Germany without a permit until their asylum status has been sorted out- which in extreme cases can take up to 10 years. Naturally, this policy keeps refugees in a sort of limbo, preventing them from fully integrating into society, traveling to visit relatives, studying at university, or finding work. This nasty law also means the state controls whether you can attend meetings or protests- limiting freedom of speech and the right to assemble.

With the recent refugee march from Wurzburg to Berlin, the refugees and their allies practiced non-violent resistence to these and similar policies, and sought to make the invisible visible.

Did it work? Der Tagespiegel reports today that the Berlin Senator for Integration Dilek Kolat and Refugee Commissioner Maria Böhmer visited the strikers and had a 4 hour discussion with them about their demands. Although the resulting quotes are basically platitudes, the politicians expressed their support of the protest and stated that they supported the desires of the protestors to learn German and start working. Böhmer apparently questioned whether the Residenzpflicht is still "up-to-date," and hinted that they would write a letter discouraging the arrest of the protestors for violating their residence restrictions by travelling to Berlin.

We'll have to keep an eye on the situation to see whether any changes are made to refugee housing, work permits, or the draconian Residenzpflicht. In the meantime, I think the protestors can cautiously celebrate a success.

Read More:
Refugees End Their Hungerstrike (Der Tagespiegel, in German)
Refugee Tent Action (The website of the Hunger Strikers)
AsylstrikeBerlin (Website with information about the refugee march and protest)
Karawane (Organization for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants)
Pro-Asyl (NGO supporting Refugees in Germany)

And finally, here's a clip from an awesome recent documentary by Denise Garcia Bergt about Germany's refugees and migrants, called "Residenzpflict."

Trailer Residenzpflicht from denisebergt on Vimeo.