School fights deportation

20th January 1995 at 00:00
Reva Klein reports on a campaign to stop two orphans being forced to leave the country.

Two Zairean orphans who saw their father being tortured and killed by government troops face the possibility of deportation.

It was the day before school broke up for Christmas that a distressed Huguette Eseko, aged nine, told her Section 11 teacher at Hazelwood Junior School in Enfield, north London, that she, her 12-year-old brother and 26-year-old sister had received a deportation order asking them to report to Gatwick airport in five days, at which time the family would be sent back to the country they had fled in May 1993.

Teacher Jackie Lewis was alarmed at the possibility that Huguette, her brother Mbumba Biango and sister Nkosi Bugundi would be in danger if they were sent back to Zaire, where their father had been a political activist.

Fully supported by the headteacher Pamela Furby and the governing body, she set about over the school holidays organising a mammoth letter-writing and media campaign.

Michael Portillo, the children's local MP, sent a letter by return post expressing his concern and interest in the case. Local councillors and the chair of the education committee have been vocal in their support for the three siblings to stay together in the UK.

Achilleas Georgiou, head of Enfield education committee, says, "The safety of the family can in no way be guaranteed in Zaire. They have settled in Britain and started a new life. Without the Section 11 teacher's involvement, this case wouldn't have come to light - until it was too late."

If they were sent back to Zaire, Huguette, her brother and sister would have nowhere to go, according to Ms Lewis. After government troops murdered their father, the children saw their house set fire to and burnt to the ground. Their mother had died of an illness when Huguette was five and, she says, there are no other relatives to look after them. Both children require, in Jackie Lewis's view, professional counselling to help them overcome the traumas they have suffered.

Huguette and Mbumba fear that if they were to return, their lives would be in danger from government troops. The Home Office, in its rejection of Nkosi's appeal for exceptional leave to remain, has stated that while it does not dispute the fact that the father was killed by Zaire national army troops, the family has nothing to fear by returning.

The family's quest for sanctuary and the resumption of normality in this country has been fraught from the beginning. Nkosi, the older sister, applied for political asylum on arrival and she and the children were granted temporary admission pending a decision by the Secretary of State. This was refused in September 1993.

At an appeal hearing in May of last year, the Secretary of State was asked to give most serious consideration to the granting of exceptional leave to remain in the UK. A month after the hearing a refusal came from the Home Office.

Immediately after that, Nkosi was arrested on suspicion of social security fraud and sent to Holloway Prison for seven months. The children were put into foster care but after a short time were given over to the care of a Zairean family friend living in Enfield.

When Nkosi was finally acquitted of the fraud , she was immediately rearrested in December and taken to an immigration department detention centre, from where she was released on January 9.

A separate asylum application has now been submitted on behalf of the two children, Huguette and Mbumba, and their current status of "temporary admission" is to be reviewed on February 11. Their solicitor, Georgina Hetherington, says that that date will be extended until their asylum application is considered. Meanwhile, a different solicitor is working on behalf of Nkosi, who has filed for a judicial review on her application for exceptional leave to remain in the country.

What happens next, says Ms Hetherington, is "in the lap of the gods." Teacher Jackie Lewis is clear in her view of the case. "To send them back would be the worst kind of inhumanity and cruelty."

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