Koulla Yiasouma NI Commissioner for Children and Young People said children are suffering due to their parent’s or carer’s immigration status and as a result are plunged into extreme poverty, facing homelessness and destitution[i].
Publishing a scoping report “A Hostile Environment” exploring the impact of immigration rules on children and young people in NI, the Commissioner said: “Some families affected by immigration rules face a condition called ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF) which prevents them from accessing many social security benefits and housing support.
“This can have devasting effects for children and families and Government know very little about the numbers or the realities of the lives of these children and indeed how much they rely on voluntary and community sector services to keep safe. These groups are ultimately trying to fill the gap that the UK government has deliberately created.”
There is no accurate data available which the Commissioner says is a fundamental problem making it almost impossible for the NI Executive to understand and provide support for some of our poorest children and families.
She said, “Failure to provide a coherent and accessible pathway for support is creating the need for informal avenues of support and charitable efforts which, whilst an invaluable lifeline to those left destitute, does not take away from the duties placed on government and statutory agencies to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.”
The report highlights that the Covid-19 Pandemic has exacerbated the problems experienced by asylum seeking families and those subject to NRPF in NI, further widening the inequality gap for children and their parents.
Koulla concluded. “The destitution inflicted on children is in direct conflict with Government obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to ‘provide sufficient support to migrant, refugee and asylum-seeking children to access basic services’.
“We must move fast. The UK and NI Government must:
- Undertake work to identify how many children in NI are living in a family with No Recourse to Public Funds and publish this data.
- Develop clear pathways across and between agencies like Home Office and Health and Social Care agencies to ensure that children and families are referred and that the needs and best interests of children are assessed as a matter of urgency.
- Address the needs of each child, particularly ensuring that they have access to the highest standard of health care, effective education and an adequate standard of living and all other protections afforded by the UNCRC.
“It is unimaginable that in 2021 there are children living in Northern Ireland who are left without recourse to public funds for the most basic of needs.”