Brown halts deportation of Burma junta critic

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A Burmese dissident who faced deportation that could have sent him to the torture chamber in his troubled homeland has won his battle to stay in Britain after Gordon Brown stepped in to order a review of his case.

Mr Brown intervened after The Independent highlighted the plight of Lay Naing and his family, triggering an angry challenge during Prime Minister's Questions over Britain's treatment of refugees fleeing the brutal regime.

Mr Naing fled to Britain last year after being imprisoned and beaten for distributing literature critical of the military junta. But his asylum claim was thrown out and three appeals were rejected because he did not make an immediate claim for protection when he arrived in Britain.

But Mr Brown ordered a review of his case after he was challenged in the Commons last month by the Tory immigration spokes-man, Damian Green. This week, Mr Naing received the news he had been hoping for in a personal letter from the Prime Minister. It confirmed that Mr Naing, his wife and 18-month-old daughter would be given leave to stay in Britain.

Mr Naing said yesterday: "We are very happy and I am very excited, but at the same time I have very mixed feelings. It's very weird. I have so many thoughts. I have been thinking about the Burmese people and about the other people's human rights there. I feel sad that so many people in my country cannot talk about human rights."

Mr Naing, an IT lecturer in his native Rangoon, said contact with his family in Burma was very difficult and he did not know what had happened to friends who had been imprisoned with him. "I'm still worried about them," he said.

He added: "I have called Damian Green to thank him and I thank Gordon Brown a lot, also for his efforts on human rights as well. The media can help a lot in educating people about what is happening and I really thank The Independent."

Mr Naing, 34, who has been living in Wakefield and working as a volunteer for the Refugee Council, said he planned to celebrate by cooking a meal for friends at the council's centre in Leeds. He said he now wanted to look for a job, carry on his voluntary work and continue to campaign for democracy in his homeland.

The Prime Minister confirmed that Mr Naing would be given humanitarian protection in a letter to Mr Green. He wrote: "The Government has strongly and repeatedly condemned the recent violent suppression of peaceful protests across the country. We are horrified by the reports of ongoing persecution targets at all those who took part in the demonstrations.

"We want the regime to release all political prisoners, engage in a genuine process of reconciliation and a dialogue that it fully inclusive, not least of the ethnic groups."

Mr Green said: "I'm delighted this case has ended successfully. I hope the Government now takes a hard look at its position on returning dissidents to Burma while the situation remains too dangerous for them. Rhetoric about Burmese democracy must be matched by effective action."

Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "We hope this represents an acknowledgement from the Government that Burma is not safe and they are now ensuring that those who have sought sanctuary in the UK are fully protected."