Life in the Shadows: Britain’s Undocumented Children

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imageBy Leonard Doyle

Armed only with a camera and notebook,  Len Grant, a self-described “middle-aged bloke from the suburbs,” spends a lot of his time these days looking for shadow people.

“I’m discovering this community on behalf of my own,” he says.

Len is telling the story of undocumented children living in the UK by letting them describe in their own words, their daily struggles and vulnerabilities, but also their strength and resilience. As he himself admits, “It’s not an easy read”.

Len is currently writing about Ruth, 25 with a four-year old daughter, who was “brought here at 14 to work as a domestic ‘slave’.”

“She is unknown to the authorities and claims no benefits, but still has to find £10 a week for Dyanna’s school meals,” he writes.

What makes Len’s method of storytelling so compelling is the emotional connection he creates with the reader. Its helped by a minimalist presentation on his blog bringing to the forefront the grinding reality of his subjects struggle. Simple “back-story” links are used to fill in biographical details.

There are an estimated 120,000 undocumented children living in the UK whether born in or outside the country to undocumented parents. I caught up with Len on his mobile phone yesterday heading to down the motorway to another assignation, which may produce material for his extraordinary blog, bringing to life the stories of undocumented migrant families and young people in their own words.

Len’s blog deserves special attention because he is getting widespread attention for his work which typically focuses on low-income-communities.

.Len’s previous blog, Her First Year – was written about a teenage mother from the wrong side of the tracks in Manchester.  It won an award last year followed up by a nine page feature article in the Guardian Weekend Magazine.

While  no stranger to the poverty experienced by Britain’s poor, Len says the vulnerability of the country’s undocumented children and families “surpasses all he has encountered among others because of the destitution and hardship they face.”

“Undocumented migrants have nothing. They are not allowed to work. They have no right to state benefits nor to a place to live. They are unseen and potentially the most vulnerable group in the UK today,” he notes on his blog.

“Undocumented (or irregular) migrants include those trafficked into the sex trade or for domestic servitude; they include visa overstayers; those whose asylum applications have been refused and others who have been subject to failures in the immigration system. All of these may originally have come to the UK legally.”

So-called ‘Illegal immigrants’ – those imagined to have entered the country in the backs of lorries – make up a small proportion of the undocumented, he writes.

By definition, no one knows the precise number of undocumented children in the UK, “but they were actually born here to undocumented parents’ he says and ‘these children are disadvantaged from birth, solely by their immigration status.”

Life Without Papers is written by award-winning photographer and writer Len Grant, the subjects of the stories have been introduced through agencies or charities that work with destitute migrants.

Len’s Her First Year blog – about a teenage mum from Manchester’s Moss Side – won a Blog North Award 2012 and was featured in the Guardian Weekend Magazine.

Life Without Papers is commissioned by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy.

Visit http://www.lifewithoutpapers.co.uk/

Leonard Doyle is the head of Online Communications for IOM