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Family separated as court supports deportation order

A MOTHER was separated from her seven children last night when the High Court turned down a last-ditch appeal against a Home Office order that she should be deported to her native Punjab.

Campaigners for the woman, who has been in Britain for eight years, say she does not know when - or even if - she will see her family again. She was uanble to say goodbye to them last night as the ruling was made less than 15 minutes before her plane was due to leave Gatwick airport.

As six of the children are wards of court, in the care of the eldest daughter, they cannot go abroad without the permission of a judge. The family cannot be identified because of the wardship case.

After accepting deportation as inevitable, the woman yesterday asked Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, for leave to stay in Britain for a few more days, enabling her to seek a court order to take her children to India. But in a decision that stunned her legal advisers, Mr Clarke insisted that she should leave last night. The High Court said it had no power to review his order.

Lawyers who had previously described the case as a significant test of children's rights in immigration proceedings said the Home Office had adopted an unexpectedly tough approach.

Usha Sood, a barrister and campaigner for the family, said her anger was all the greater as the Home Office had appeared sympathetic to their plight earlier in the day, only to dash their hopes later. 'Even a condemned person is allowed to meet their family for the last time. What has she done to be treated with less dignity than a condemned person? The children are totally distraught.

'Why was there such a hurry? What difference would it have made if she was allowed to stay in Britain a few more days to apply to deward her children. It seems so barbaric. If this happened to English people in another country we would call it fascist. It is ignoring the children's rights.'

A Home Office spokesman said Mr Clarke had refused to postpone the deportation order because he was doubtful whether the courts would give permission for the children to leave Britain.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr Clarke made clear he believed the woman had used wardship proceedings as a device to avoid removal. In so doing, the family had created its own difficulties, he said. Observers said the Home Office had been concerned that the case should not set a precedent.

The family had come to Britain seven years ago to visit relatives and, while here, had applied for asylum when their home was destroyed in the rioting that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi. This was refused and they were issued with deportation notices in 1988. In 1990, they lost their final appeal and the father was deported last year.

The two youngest children were born in Britain, and none can read or write any of the Indian languages, according to Ms Sood. As a result, if they are ever able to rejoin their mother in the Punjab, they will be at a serious disadvantage in school. They have won considerable sympathy in Nottingham, where local MPs and religious leaders have been among those campaigning for them.