Kidi’s story

Dramatisation based on interviews collected for the research project ‘Undocumented children and families in the UK’ carried out at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford. The research was funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust. The final report No way out, no way in: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK by Nando Sigona and Vanessa Hughes (2012) is available here.

The video was produced by Bleeding Heart Films and Ice & Fire. Credits at the end of the film.

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Here to stay: understanding the consequences of protracted legal limbo

Vanessa Hughes (COMPAS) and Michele Levoy (PICUM) at the workshop on ‘No way out, no way in’ at the House of Lords (Committee Room 1).

Having the opportunity to get feedback on the report ‘No way out, no way in: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK’ by policy makers, activists and civil servants was exciting. Baroness Hamwee, our host at the House of Lords, welcomed participants and expressed her support for the study that, she said, ‘brings back into the policy and academic debates on immigration the human side’. Debbie Pippard of the Barrow Cadbury Trust which funded the study expressed the Trust’s appreciation for the contribution the report makes ‘to detoxify the current debate on this issue’. The responses from PICUM, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England and the Children’s Society were overall very supportive and helped us to better locate the findings of our study in current policy debates. In her response, Michele Levoy (PICUM) focused on the similarities and differences among EU member states. She also noticed the lack of attention by policy makers to the best interests of irregular migrant children in families. While agreeing of the lack of interests for dependent children, Adrian Matthews pointed out that we see increasingly the ‘best interests of the child’ used by authorities to legitimise immigration control and to blame parents for putting children through the experience of ‘illegality’. Ilona Pinter (the Children’s Society)  praised the report for bringing to the fore the voices of migrant children and families, but also the frustration of social workers, teachers and healthcare professionals for the increasing pressure put by the UK Border Agency on their job. As a participant noticed: ‘social workers have become de facto immigration officers’. The general discussion explored the feasibility of linking current developments in the US (Obama’s decision to suspend deportations for young undocumented migrants) with the situation of undocumented children in the  UK. In my presentation, I stressed the reality that despite the trend of increasingly using deportation as a tool of immigration management, the large majority of irregular migrants, especially children, are likely to stay in the UK.  In conclusion, I expressed the need for reframing the debate on child migration in the UK and for considering not only the issue of rights, which of course is extremely important, but also the societal implications of keeping a genation of young migrants (over half of whom born in the UK) in a condition of permanent exclusion from citizenship.

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No way out, no way in: Migrant children fall through the net

An estimated 120,000 children living in the UK without legal immigration status are at risk of destitution, exploitation and social exclusion because of contradictory and frequently changing rules and regulations which jeopardise their access to healthcare, education, protection by the police and other public services, a new report published today by the University of Oxford shows.

The report No Way Out, No Way In: Irregular migrant children and families in the UK” is published by the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford. It shows that irregular migrant children – more than half of whom were born in the UK and have lived here their entire lives – are being trapped between laws protecting children and the enforcement of migration control.

Dr Nando Sigona, the report’s main author, said: “Current immigration policy seems to override the concern for children’s rights. Nobody, not the public, nor the children or their families, benefits from this”.

Both international and British laws guarantee children access to education and healthcare, irrespective of their immigration status, and oblige public authorities to work in the children’s best interests. But increased demands on public authorities by the UK Border Agency – such as asking social services to report suspected irregular migrants – are pushing families and children away from essential services, leaving them more vulnerable and isolated. This can also mean that children and their families who are victims of serious crime may be afraid to report it to police because of their fears about their immigration status.

Frontline professionals like GPs and teachers are increasingly being asked to check the legal status of children in their care. Not having legal status can mean the children either don’t go to school or can’t participate fully. It also means they may not be able to register with a GP or that pregnant mothers who lack legal status may avoid antenatal and postnatal care for fear of being reported to UKBA.

Dr Paramjit Gill of The Royal College of General Practitioners stated: “Having a large group of young people without access to healthcare has significant public health implications such as missing out on routine immunisation and screening programmes”.

Dr Sigona said: “The point of the report is to identify the situation that these children are in, and the difficulties that this places on the public service providers with whom they come into contact. Teachers, GPs and social workers should be allowed to do their jobs without having to act as de facto immigration control officers”.

Through a vivid portrait of children’s everyday lives, the report shows the profound extent to which the immigration system can affect the health and educational achievements of irregular migrant children from an early age, and seeks to contribute to the policy debate on how to reconcile the protection of children’s rights and migration control for the benefit of both the children and British society more broadly.

Ilona Pinter, Policy Advisor on Young Refugees and Migrants, The Children’s Society said: “This research shows the harsh reality facing tens of thousands of undocumented migrant children across the UK. Denying families access to support and vital services is leaving children hungry, homeless and destitute. Regardless of their immigration status, the government has a responsibility to protect all children in the UK”.

Finally, considering that children who were born or spent most of their childhood in the UK are unlikely to be deported, and the potential negative impacts on British society of a long term excluded population, the report recommends policy makers to provide effective pathways for irregular migrant children to regularise their legal status.

About the report

The study was carried out by a research team at the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS). It was funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust and was part of a comparative research project in collaboration with the Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM) at Georgetown University (USA). The research team conducted their qualitative study over two years, interviewing 49 irregular migrant families from Jamaica, Afghanistan, China, Brazil, Nigeria and ethnic Kurds reaching in total over one hundred minors, and carrying out 30 interviews with public service providers (teachers and GPs), local authorities, policy makers and support organisations.

About the authors of the report

Dr Nando Sigona, the main author of the study, is Research Associate at the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) and Senior Research Officer at the Refugee Studies Centre,both at the University of Oxford. His main research interests include: irregular and child migration, asylum in the EU, Roma politics and anti-Gypsyism in Europe, and the relationship between migration, citizenship and belonging.

Vanessa Hughes is Research Assistant at the ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society where she contributes on a number of research activities and projects on irregular and child migration, migrant integration in the EU, citizenship, and urban change.

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Migrants transiting through Macedonia

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Originally posted on Postcards from …:
Can anyone detect a human smuggler here? Will Cameron and Renzi’s solution be to bomb Macedonia’s railways network? Europe is building fences along its external land borders, Hungary has almost completed one along its border…

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The Home Office, Kafka and immigration policy

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Dr Miwa Hirono, University of Nottingham (photo: Dr Miwa Hirono, University of Nottingham (photo:

David Barrett on The Telegraph reports on the Japanese academic and UK Government’s foreign policy adviser who is forced to leave Britain because in 2009-2010 she had spent too much time overseas. Dr Miwa Hirono, originally from Japan, has been living in Nottingham for seven years since taking up a position at the University of Nottingham as RCUK research fellow. She has a one-year old boy and an Australian husband who quit his job to join her in the UK.

In whose interest is the Home Office acting forcing Dr Hirono to leave the UK? Certainly not the national one, many would argue, including the University of Nottingham that issued the following statement:

“The University of Nottingham is extremely disappointed that one of its most promising and talented academics, Dr Miwa Hirono, will be leaving the UK to take up a post overseas…

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An (Italian) undocumented migrant in New York

When an irregular migrant is just like me

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11-Matte-Painting-New-YorkWe are used to think of ‘illegal’ migrants as others from us, so if you are Italian and live in Italy the ‘clandestino’ is always imagined as a dark skinned, male and young person who travelled to Italy by a perilous journey on a rickety boat. More left-leaning Italians add to this image also the fact that the person may have been exploited, smuggled and vulnerable. No doubt, this is true for some, but there are many more routes into the country, more routes into ‘illegality’ and certainly different degrees of poverty, vulnerability and exploitation among undocumented migrants (see Sans Papiers).

Each country has a slightly different version of the quintessential ‘illegal’, and I say ‘slightly’ because a quick overview will easily point to a ‘preference’ for dark skinned and poor people for this casting role. But it is not a matter of ‘imagination’ only.

As I have pointed…

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Watch President Obama Immigration Speech

Obama Immigration Speech: Announcing Executive Ac…:

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Whose sea? Mare Nostrum and the politics of migration in the Med

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By Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham

Cemetery of migrant boats in Capo Passero, Sicily. Photo by Nando Sigona Cemetery of migrant boats in Capo Passero, Sicily. Photo by Nando Sigona

Thirty lifeless bodies found in the bow of a fishing boat carrying 600 migrants off the coast of Sicily have reignited the debate on illegal crossings in the Mediterranean and how the EU should respond. The Italian navy is facing an unprecedented flow of migrants across the sea, with the number intercepted in first half of 2014 already outnumbering those of the past year and at levels seen in 2011 during the Arab Spring.

To offset the moral panic that pervades this debate, it would be useful for everyone involved to remember that the high number of interceptions is not per se an indicator of an increasing number of illegal crossings and even less and indication of the number of irregular migrants in the EU. While a correlation can’t be…

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Whose interests do we protect by refusing children asylum? Not ours, nor the children’s

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By Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham

In just a few days last week the #FightForYashika campaign managed to raise more than 178,000 signatures on a petition asking to the UK Home Office to reconsider the forced removal of 19-year-old Yashika Bageerathi, who was deported back to Mauritius to face the abuse and harassment from which she and her family had claimed asylum in Britain in 2011. In a poignant analysis of the case in The Observer newspaper, Catherine Bennett, explained the possible reasons behind the sympathetic coverage even in usually anti-immigration media outlets by this story, noting that it “nicely encapsulates a picky but popular approach to migrants: just a few exceptionally gifted singletons, please”.

She also noted that this approach has a darker side – namely the exclusion of many more young migrants who have, like Yashika, applied unsuccessfully for asylum in the UK when still underage…

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How the UK immigration apparatus killed a 84-year-old Canadian citizen

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He died in handcuffs while detained at a UK privately-run and publicly-funded  detention centre – an 84-year-old Canadian with Alzheimer’s. But who was the man behind the tragedy? Why a simple question like this never get answered? Why do we accept that immigrants are only talked about as numbers – who many are detained, who many are deported, who many ‘net migrants’ exist this quarter, who much they contribute or not to the economy, who much they (or we) cost to the UK welfare system.

Here you have an old engineer originally from Slovenia, who fought the Nazi occupation in Yugoslavia and moved to Canada after the war, an old widower who was travelling back to Slovenia to meet old relatives and, unfortunately for him, had to change plane at Gatwick, UK. He never made to Slovenia, Alois Dvorzac died at Harmondsworth immigration detention centre, and was not even…

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Theresa May, statelessness and Hannah Arendt

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photo credit: luiginter via photopin cc photo credit: luiginter via photopincc

The UK Secretary of State Theresa May’s call for new powers to strip citizenship from individuals who are deemed a threat to public order is now formalised in the Immigration Bill. Many have argued against this further erosion of Britons’ right to citizenship. In an excellent opinion piece in The Guardian (see also one on The Conversation),  noted that ‘during the dark days of the second world war, when Britain was in mortal danger, only four people were stripped of citizenship. Theresa May has denaturalised more than four times that number of in the last three years alone’. With the new Bill coming into force we can only expect even more British citizens to be consigned to the condition of statelessness. The relatively small number should not disguise the political significance of this move. The following passage from Chapter 9 of Hannah Arendt’s

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Our job is to be educators, not border guards

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[Published in The Independent on 24 October]

UKBAWe write as academics concerned with the way in which the rhetoric over security is undermining the university as a place of learning and open discussion (“Is this really necessary? Universities introduce fingerprinting for international students”, 21 October).

The latest move by the universities of Sunderland and Ulster, singling out international students to give fingerprints to prove their attendance at lectures, is reprehensible and to be condemned in the strongest terms.

As academics, we have a duty of care towards all our students, and such policies undermine that relationship. We call on the universities of Sunderland and Ulster to withdraw the use of this system, and for all other universities to take seriously their commitment to equitable treatment of all their students.

We also call on the Government to stop putting pressure on universities to enact such immigration policies. This damages…

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On the Europeanization of Lampedusa and similar tragedies

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The death of migrants in the Mediterranean is a truly ‘European’ tragedy

[Article for LSE EUROPP Blog, 14 Oct 2013]

Over 300 migrants travelling from Libya to Italy died on 3 October when the boat they were travelling in caught fire and sank in the Mediterranean. I argue that efforts to prevent further disasters taking place must focus on the reasons why migrants choose to risk their lives by travelling to Europe. The EU has not taken on its fair share of asylum seekers in comparison to developing countries in Africa and the Middle East, and opening up safe and legal pathways to apply for asylum should be a key priority. Finally, I argue that the Europeanization of Lampedusa is a strategic asset for the EU Commission at a time when the EU legitimacy is under unprecedented attack in many EU member states. It is up to the EU…

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