Mongolian 'princess' deported on election day

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The Independent Online

Tens of thousands of Liverpudlians turned out last year to see Misheel Narantsogt, 8, be crowned princess of the Lord Mayor's parade.

For the youngster's family, who had become popular figures on Merseyside after fleeing their Mongolian homeland, it was a moment filled with pride.

But, in the early hours of Thursday morning - the day millions of Britons went to the polls - immigration officials arrived at Misheel's home and put her into a police van.

Then, on Sunday night, Misheel, her brother, mother and father, were taken to Heathrow Aiport and returned to Mongolia, where they now face almost-certain persecution.

Campaigners who have been fighting for the Narantsogts to stay in Britain believe the deportation was timed to coincide with the election to limit negative publicity.

Last year, there was massive local support for Misheel and her family when they were granted a reprieve by the Home Office and freed from a Scottish immigration detention centre. Ten days later, Misheel took pride of place as gala princess at the city's parade.

Last night, the family lawyer, Aamer Anwar, said he believed it was no coincidence the Home Office had chosen to act on a day when it knew the media's attention was distracted by the general election. He said: "This was a cynical attempt to avoid any bad publicity when it was quite clear everybody would be watching the election. We didn't even have time to make any representations to the Home Office.

"At best, the family faces the prospect of interrogation and imprisonment. At worst they could be executed by a regime which is simply unaccountable."

Tso (Jugder) Narantsogt, 39, a civil engineer, says he was repeatedly threatened by communists at home after founding a provincial branch of the opposition Democratic Union party in Sukhe-baatar province. In 2000, he was imprisoned by the authorities but later fled for sanctuary in Britain.

The family's request for asylum was turned down on the grounds that Mr Narantsogt was not sufficiently high-profile to attract the attention of the authorities. Last year, his legal team launched a fresh application.

Mr Anwar told the Home Office the family's story had been on the front page of their country's national newspaper, The Mongol News, detailing Mr Narantsogt's history as a dissident politician. "This marks him out as an individual who may now be persecuted," said Mr Anwar.

How different it had all seemed just 10 months ago when the family were freed from Dungavel detention centre in Lanarkshire.

The family had thrown themselves into Liverpool life. Misheel had settled into St John's primary, excelling at painting, singing and dancing. Her English is good. Evsaana, her brother, is studying English at Hugh Baird College in Bootle and has made a new circle of friends through five-a-side football.

Shinee Narantsogt, Misheel's mother, is an English teacher but there are serious concerns about her health, concerns that her lawyers say have not been recognised by the Home Office.

Last year, she described how happy her daughter had been after she found out she had been chosen for the parade: "Misheel was chosen as the Parade Princess in Liverpool, where we were living, after I submitted her picture. My daughter's dream is to be a model, so we sent in her pictures, and they chose her from hundreds of others." She added: "She just wants to go there and wear her crown."

At the time, the family were still being held in the immigration detention centre. Mrs Narantsogt said: "She is very sad in here. We said to her she's in a castle like a princess but she doesn't believe it."

On Thursday, the family were given minutes to say their final goodbyes before being put into a police van and deported.

Brenda Moore, their neighbour of two years, told the Liverpool Daily Post of the family's tears as they hugged and exchanged an emotional goodbye before they were driven away.

She said: "I managed to put my arms around Tso and I hugged him. I said: 'Don't worry, it might get sorted out', but he was so upset all he could say was 'I'll try and be in touch'.

"Then Shinee came out. I managed to get the officer to let go of her so I could give her a hug. We were both crying. It was very emotional."

Last night, Mr Anwar, a human rights lawyer at a Glasgow law firm, Beltrami Berlow, questioned how many asylum-seekers had received a similar visit by immigration officials on election day. "No one will ever know how many other families had their doors kicked last Thursday," he said.