Sikh mother of seven awaits verdict on her deportation: A woman who has lived in England for the past nine years could now be separated from her children. Heather Mills reports

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THIS MAY be the last week this Sikh mother spends with her seven children.

Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, is due to announce whether he will deport her to her native Punjab or whether he has accepted her pleas on humanitarian grounds to be allowed to remain in England with her children - the youngest of whom is only two.

Their father was deported last year. After being held in a jail in India, he has now moved to Zambia but remains unable to provide a home for his family. He manages to make contact with them about once every two months.

The threat to the Nottingham family has arisen because six of the seven children are wards of court in the care of the eldest daughter and cannot leave the country without court authority.

Two of them were born in England and the other five have been raised here for the past nine years. They look on England as their home and have no wish to move to what is effectively a strange country, where they face penury and have no home or family support.

Theirs was the first immigration case where High Court wardship proceedings were used to effectively prevent their removal. The court heard that the mother was suffering from a severe depressive illness and had tried to commit suicide following the deportation of her husband.

It was decided that the children would be better off in the care of their 20-year-old sister, who had not been served with a deportation order - although the threat of her removal remains.

The case is seen as an important test of the rights and welfare of children in immigration cases.

The Home Office has always maintained it was not splitting the family because it offered to buy air tickets for the children too. But Usha Sood, a barrister and campaigner for the children, said: 'The voice and welfare of children have got to have some recognition even in immigration law. These children are totally integrated into the English society and, after nearly 10 years here, will not be able to integrate into life in another country without wealth and resources.'

Their plight has aroused enormous sympathy and support in Nottingham. Local MPs and religious leaders have raised their case with the Home Secretary and in the Commons. Parents at both the junior and comprehensive schools where the children are pupils have written to Mr Clarke asking for compassion.

Labour's Baroness David, whose interests in the House of Lords include immigration and asylum, said yesterday: 'I think theirs is a very exceptional case, which deserves special treatment.'

The family came to England to visit relatives in 1984. But while here they applied for asylum when their shop and home were destroyed in the riots which followed the murder of Indira Gandhi.

They finally lost their asylum claim in 1990 and the parents were ordered to be deported as over- stayers. One of the main complaints has been delay in the asylum processes, which has meant not only that the children have become integrated, but that they have also lived with uncertainty.

None of the family can be identified, because of the wardship proceedings. But yesterday the eldest son, who is now 16, said: 'We are all very scared about what is going to happen to us and to our mother.

'If she is deported she will arrive alone and helpless in India.'

(Photograph omitted)