Straw orders disabled orphan out

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The Independent Online

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has ordered an 11-year-old disabled boy who has made his home in Britain to be sent back to Romania, where he will almost certainly end up in an orphanage or mental institution.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has ordered an 11-year-old disabled boy who has made his home in Britain to be sent back to Romania, where he will almost certainly end up in an orphanage or mental institution.

Ovidiu Rau's application to extend his visa has been turned down by the Home Office even though he is living with a family desperate to adopt him while he waits for an operation to help him to walk properly.

Ovidiu suffers from rickets, an illness largely unheard of in this country today, which developed during his early years in a Romanian orphanage. When he first came to Britain, aged nine, he was in a poorly condition, weighing just three stone and without the strength to clamber up a flight of stairs.

He was flown to Britain in 1998 for a series of operations on his legs by charity workers Phil and Val Stratton, who now want to adopt him. His weight is up to five stone while he awaits one last operation - his legs are bent out of shape like boomerangs - which will finally allow him to run and walk properly for the first time. Ovidiu is attending the local school.

Immigration officials, however, have decided Ovidiu's time in the UK is up. Last month, they sent the Strattons a letter giving him 28 days to leave the country. The Strattons, from Chasetown, Staffordshire, are fighting a rearguard action and have appealed against the decision, giving them six months to persuade Mr Straw he should stay.

Mr Stratton told The Independent on Sunday: "We are absolutely devastated. Everything was going smoothly. We supplied everything the Home Office ever asked us for. We tracked down his mother in Romania who signed papers of abandonment through a Romanian court. His mother was only 19 when Ovidiu was born and she couldn't afford to keep him and so the only way for her was to put him in an orphanage. If he went back, he would return to nothing."

They believe the boy is almost certain to end up in a mental institution or orphanage if he is forced back to Romania. The case has been taken up by local MP Michael Fabricant, Conservative member for Lichfield, who said: "It seems illogical in the extreme to send him back before he has completed his medical treatment and very cruel, given that he would be returning to a mental institution when all indications show he is a very bright child. In an attempt for the Government to prove it has to be macho over asylum seekers, a defenceless little boy has now been identified and been picked on to return to Romania."

A Home Office spokeswoman said Mrs Stratton had breached immigration guidelines by bringing Ovidiu into the UK before he was adopted. She said now the appeal was lodged, the Home Office would look at the case afresh.

Mr Straw, whose tough line on asylum seekers has enraged human rights campaigners, is also embroiled in a second disturbing case of a woman who faces judicial lashes and eventual death in Iran, simply because she is a lesbian.

Deli Sadr, 24, left her family in western Iran and came to Britain because she feared her life would be in danger if her sexual orientation became known. On her arrival in Britain in July 1998, Ms Sadr, whose real name cannot be printed for legal reasons, claimed refugee status.

In refusing her application, the Home Office admitted that the punishment for lesbianism is severe: "The Secretary of State is aware of the Sharia Law against homosexuality. Lesbianism (defined as genital contact between women) is punishable by 100 lashes each and by death on the fourth offence."

Even so, Mr Straw considered that the law was applied fairly: "This is the law of the country and is administered to all sections of society regardless of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."

Ms Sadr would need to show she had a "well-founded fear of persecution" - which she cannot do, says the Home Office, because the Iranian authorities were unaware she was a lesbian.

Sebastian Sandys, of the gay rights lobby group Stonewall, said that the decision is wrong in law. "In a House of Lords case in 1999, Shah and Islam, it was made clear that homosexuals do form a social group for the purpose of claims for asylum."

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat minister for home affairs, says: "The law should protect women like [Ms Sadr] but a compassionate Home Secretary might choose to give protection on the basis of ordinary human rights."

Figures recorded by Amnesty International show that Iran's state authorities have killed 49 homosexual men. Ms Sadr's solicitor Ruth Bundey believes the Home Office decision is both "outrageous and unsustainable".

"One hundred lashes in itself amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment, and the prospect of death on the fourth occasion is anything but reassuring," she said.

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