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Brexit: Children in Care Threatened With Becoming Undocumented in United Kingdom

FILE - A woman carries signs as children hold an EU flag as they attend a protest against Brexit on the border crossing between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in Carrickcarnon, Ireland, March 30, 2019.
FILE - A woman carries signs as children hold an EU flag as they attend a protest against Brexit on the border crossing between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in Carrickcarnon, Ireland, March 30, 2019.

They are called Adam or Nastashia, they are Europeans and live in the United Kingdom where they have been placed in homes or foster families, victims of chaotic journeys. Some of these children are now at risk of becoming undocumented as a result of Brexit.

"This means that they will not have the right to live in the United Kingdom," warns Marianne Lagrue, an official of the association Coram Children's Legal Center which helps them.

"They will not be able to access free health care, work, receive benefits, rent housing, learn to drive and have a bank account," she told AFP.

At 18, they also risk deportation from a country where they have often resided for a long time.

Because since the United Kingdom definitively left the orbit of the European Union on January 1, it is no longer possible to settle there freely or to continue to reside there without special procedures, as was the case. before.

While migration rules have been tightened for new arrivals from the EU, those who were already on British soil on December 31, 2020 can retain their rights provided they register, by June 30 at the latest, via the " settlement scheme."

The program is considered a "success" by the government, with some 5 million temporary or permanent residence permits granted - far more than the number of EU nationals previously estimated at over 3 million. But it also has its drop-outs.

"It's simple if you have a job, if you are doing well with digital technologies (the requests being made mainly online, Editor's note) and if you have all your documents," notes Azmina Siddique, from the association The Children's Society, interviewed by AFP.

It is much more complex for children in care or young adults who have been placed: some find it difficult to prove their identity, provide the required residence documents or obtain the necessary support for their procedures, which are the responsibility of their legal guardian or the authorities.

The Coram association cites the example of Adam, a 4-year-old Romanian boy born in London and separated from his mother. He cannot obtain a passport from his embassy - his father, whose consent is required, is unknown - and social workers are struggling to prove his place of residence before his placement.

There is also Nastashia (assumed name), 17, broken with her family. Born in the UK, she does not have a passport and has encountered great difficulties in registering.

"Many do not even realize that they are not British," says Azmina Siddique. The impact can be "very traumatic" and "hold them back in life."

Difficult to know their exact number, the nationalities of the children placed not being collected in the United Kingdom, where the identity card does not exist.

According to the Interior Ministry, 3,660 vulnerable young people (up to 25 years old) have been identified as eligible for residency status, 67% of whom had submitted an application at the end of April. A figure largely underestimated according to associations which evoke up to 9,000 of them.

The ministry assured to work "closely" with these and the local authorities with in particular a support of 22 million pounds (25.6 million euros).

He also promised to accept late requests if there are "reasonable grounds."

This is insufficient, regrets Azmina Siddique: from July 1, children who have missed the deadline will be "without protection" until a request for regularization has been submitted and then accepted.

An interval which can extend over years, she emphasizes, and which exposes them to the hostile environment policy towards immigrants deployed by the executive.

"These children could become the next Windrush generation," she warns, referring to the scandal over the treatment of thousands of Caribbean immigrants who legally arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971, but denied rights for lack of necessary documentation.

The3Million, an association defending European citizens in the UK, urges the government to provide physical proof of residence status, which the government does not consider necessary.

More broadly, according to the U.K. think tank in a Changing Europe, up to hundreds of thousands of people could find themselves without status, including the elderly, the homeless, victims of domestic violence or children wrongly considered by their parents as being covered by theirs.

"If the government is not able to regularize the children for which it is responsible, what about children in vulnerable families (...) or vulnerable adults?" Asks Marianne Lagrue.