The Protect Project, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Supported Options Initiative, began in 2012, and is a specialist project providing holistic legal services for undocumented young people. ‘Undocumented Young People’ are young people who live in the UK but have no evidence that they have a legal right to be here. Estimates indicate that there are likely to be as many as 120,000 UYP in the UK. Many of the UYP we work with were born in the UK or have lived here since early childhood. They may not have been aware, whilst growing up, that they were not British or had no permission to remain in the UK. The point at which they discover this is frequently one of crisis – bereavement, family breakdown, experience of abuse. It can be completely shocking to them, turning everything they thought they had known on its head and questioning their very identity. Others arrived as adolescents and applied for asylum on arrival but have reached the age of 18 and been refused further leave to remain in the UK. The difficulties faced by UYP are myriad, and they face multiple disadvantage. Without the ability to prove their entitlement to remain in the UK they may be unable to access accommodation, employment, social security or education in the formal sectors. As a result, their lives are frequently chaotic and unsafe; lived ‘under the radar’.
The Protect Project was created to address the complex needs of UYP, recognising their need for a multi-disciplinary team to address their complex multiple legal needs. Our many years of experience in working with UYP in relation to immigration issues has shown us that whilst UYP have multiple legal problems, they do not always feel able to cope with involvement with multiple legal advisers. Clients in this position tended to ‘fall through the cracks’ if they required legal advice on other issues. Going to different offices, meeting several different lawyers, and having to try to explain to one lawyer what another lawyer in a different discipline had advised them was frequently too much to cope with, despite their need to resolve these issues. We therefore designed a holistic service which included advice provided by specialist young people’s lawyers in relation to housing, social welfare, mediation and education, in addition to immigration representation all at the same venue.