Malawians in deportation blunder get new date to go

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The Independent Online

Verah Kachepa and her four children had been ordered to catch a flight back to their native Malawi on Tuesday night. But mistakes by Immigration Service officials meant they missed it, and amid scenes of high emotion, they returned to their home in Weymouth, Dorset, early on Wednesday.

Supporters of their fight to stay hoped the delay may have indicated a last-minute change of heart by government ministers, but last night the family were told they would now be deported on 9 August.

Ralph Johnson, who has led the campaign against their deportation, said: "We are carrying on our fight and we are now looking at getting a lawyer, maybe on a pro-bono basis, to assist them. They have been through an absolute nightmare in the past 24 hours, forced to leave their flat and pack up their belongings, then told to go back to Dorset, now told they will be leaving in two weeks. It is utterly incompetent and insensitive."

Mrs Kachepa and her children Natasha, 20, Alex, 17, Tony, 16 and 11-year-old Upile had their application for asylum refused this year, despite reports that they could face harassment and violence in Malawi.

Their campaign to stay won cross-party political support and backing from local people in the overwhelmingly white town of Weymouth where they have lived for the past four years. Their plight became a political football in the constituency during the general election. The Conservative candidate was forced to apologise after he airbrushed Tory electoral slogans on to pictures of an anti-deportation protest organised by supporters of Mrs Kachepa.

The Labour candidate, Jim Knight, won the seat, partly because of his pledge to help the family's cause. Supporters of the Kachepa's campaign have now accused him of abandoning the family. Mr Knight was unavailable for comment.

Mrs Kachepa came to Britain in 2001 to join her pharmacist husband, the father of her children. Six months later he deserted them and returned to Malawi, leaving debts.

Mrs Kachepa took two jobs to clear the debts, and her family became part of the community. Natasha, who hoped to be a nurse in the UK, has a soldier boyfriend who was wounded in Iraq, and the other children have flourished in school. Now Mrs Kachepa's estranged husband has moved in with the niece of Malawi's former dictator, Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Country specialists say the situation in Malawi and the influence still wielded by the Banda family mean it is not safe for the family to return. Mrs Kachepa's brother and sister, who live in Malawi, lost their jobs after confronting her husband about abandoning his family.

In March, after Mrs Kachepa lost her appeal to stay, officials raided their home at dawn and detained the family in Yarl's Wood detention centre, criticised in an independent report for how children were treated there. The Kachepas were released only after an outcry by supporters. Mrs Kachepa said yesterday: "We are not footballs to be kicked around. We have lives, we have feelings. Immigration have made me feel less than human."