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Give the children leave to remain

A primary head is fighting to stop pupils being deported to countries fraught with danger. Joseph Lee reports

A primary head is campaigning to save the lives of at least eight of his pupils threatened with deportation.

More than 2,000 parents have signed a petition begun by Ged Morgan, head of St John's Roman Catholic primary in Rochdale.

He said at least eight pupils have had final asylum appeals rejected and face returning to countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bolivia, where human rights groups say people are at risk of execution or torture. The petition follows other campaigns by schools that forced the Home Office to back down.

Arun Kundnani, spokesman for the Institute of Race Relations, which supports schools fighting deportations, said he believed this was the first time primary pupils had been involved.

Mr Morgan said: "It's a totally non-political campaign. We are not activists. We are just worried about the welfare of children. They are powerless. We need to say something on their behalf."

One girl, who had been at the school for four years, was deported to Angola last Thursday. The country's brutal civil war ended three years ago, but execution, torture and sexual violence against civilians by the military persist.

Mr Morgan said he first found out about the deportation when the girl failed to turn up for school the day before. Later, immigration officials called to tell him not to expect her back again.

"It's crazy," he said. "We spend all our lives safeguarding children with risk assessments. These children make great progress in academic terms.

They really do want to put something back into the school and the community. Then after three or four years they are sent back just like that."

Mr Morgan said he did not know how to break the news to other pupils. "It's like a bereavement, only it's even more difficult to know how to say it to children," he said. "Parents have cried in my office when they heard what happened."

He wants the UK to follow the recommendations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says children should not be deported from a country they have lived in for more than two years.

Mado Fidalga fled Angola with her husband, Mario, when their home was burned to the ground by government soldiers. Seven-year-old Amicia Fidalga and Africa, 11, have lived in the UK for three years. Two of their sisters, one-year-old Alyssia and Vera, two, have never seen Angola.

Mrs Fidalga said: "We don't believe the threats will stop just because the war is over. We found safety here in a place where my children can get a good education."


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