Detained and facing expulsion, the girl who wanted to be a princess

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It is a measure of the exuberance with which eight-year-old Misheel Narantsogt approached life as an asylum-seeker that four weeks ago her mother entered her for a competition to be gala princess in Liverpool's Lord Mayor's Parade. "She's beautiful, sensitive and has a good sense of humour," she told judges in the entry, which was accompanied by a photograph of her daughter.

It is a measure of the exuberance with which eight-year-old Misheel Narantsogt approached life as an asylum-seeker that four weeks ago her mother entered her for a competition to be gala princess in Liverpool's Lord Mayor's Parade. "She's beautiful, sensitive and has a good sense of humour," she told judges in the entry, which was accompanied by a photograph of her daughter.

The judges were impressed and selected Misheel above the dozens of children who coveted the chance to be carried before an audience of 40,000 aboard a horse-drawn landau carriage in the city next month. But, by the time the congratulatory letter hit the family's doormat in the city's Kirkdale district, the British life they cherished had ended in a manner beyond their comprehension.

In the early hours of 3 June, a team of police officers arrived to evict Misheel, along with her father Jugder, 38, a civil engineer, her mother Shinee, 37, an English teacher, and her 17-year-old brother Evsaana. They were sent to a Gatwick airport holding station and then to the Dungavel detention centre in Lanarkshire, Scotland, awaiting a deportation that was scheduled for Thursday night.

After an ensuing outcry, the Home Office agreed at 5.30pm on Thursday to stay the Mongolian family's removal pending a new asylum application lodged by the Scottish human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar.

As a result, the Narantsogts found themselves on a Liverpool-bound train from Glasgow yesterday, preparing for a makeshift home with one of the many Merseyside families who have befriended them.

But in their wake, the Home Office and Scottish Parliament faced some searching questions about the morality of imprisoning children in centres such as Dungavel.

While they may have been granted a temporary reprieve, the Narantsogts' successful attempt to rebuild their lives at the heart of their Liverpool community has been undermined by uncertainty over their fate.

Though Home Office sources indicated yesterday that the Immigration minister, Des Browne, would give the case his personal attention, the Narantsogts' future in Britain remains unclear.

Yesterday, the family emerged from behind the steel gates and barbed-wire security fences of Dungavel. Trailing her suitcase behind her, Misheel said she was excited about going home to Liverpool and the chance to live her dream as a princess.

"It is nice to get out, I am excited that I am going to be a princess, I am really happy," she said. "I am going to be going to school and to tell my mates that I am going to be a princess."

Dungavel was at the centre of another controversy last year when the Kurdish Ay family - a mother and four children - were held for over a year before their deportation to Germany.

Mr Anwar, who also represented the Ays, said there were serious issues surrounding Mr Narantsogt's failed claim.

He questioned whether details of Mr Narantsogt's life as a political fugitive on the run from agents of Mongolia's ruling Communist party could have been put adequately to an asylum tribunal when the solicitors preparing their case provided no Mongolian translators. He also asked the Home Office to explain how the tribunal had concluded the Narantsogts faced no threat of violence in Mongolia when it had accepted Mr Narantsogt's claim to be provincial leader of the opposition Democratic Party - the kind of crime punishable by execution, according to Amnesty International. The family's plight had prompted the Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman to exercise her MP's right to seek a stay of removal. That was followed by Mr Anwar's new application for asylum - made on the grounds that the publicity surrounding the Narantsogts case rendered them an obvious political target in Mongolia."We have launched a fresh asylum application on behalf of the family on the basis it is not safe for them to return to Mongolia," said Mr Anwar.

"This is the start of the campaign to keep the family in this country. We hope that the Government will see sense."

PRISON IN ALL BUT NAME

The name Dungavel has, for many anti-asylum campaigners, become almost as synonymous with captivity as Colditz Castle.

The private centre for up to 150 detainees in Lanarkshire is used as a "holding facility" for failed asylum-seekers awaiting deportation. Those in the barbed-wired, high-security compound are people judged to have exhausted all legal avenues to stay and could disappear into the population.

Critics say it is a prison in all but name for innocent children and their families. They are held for 60 to 161 days, often confined to rooms only 13ft square for a family of four.

Visitors are fingerprinted, photographed and frisked with hand-held metal detectors. Staff wear blue uniforms, with chains of keys hanging from their belts, just like prison officers.

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