Schools speak up for child refugees

29th April 2005 at 01:00
Race relations group urges teachers to resist deportation of asylum-seeking pupils. Joseph Lee reports

Daniel Sukula is 15, and a keen footballer whose cousin has been signed for the legendary Italian team Juventus. When he is older, Daniel wants to play for England.

But he may never get the chance, because he and his family live under the threat of deportation back to the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) after their asylum claim was rejected.

Daniel's family fled from Africa after government militia beat and threatened to kill his mother, Ngiedi Lusukumu. The militia were searching for his father, who had already been forced to flee as a suspected political opponent.

Daniel, a pupil at Mount St Joseph school in Bolton, said: "I don't want to go back to Congo because there is a war there and if I go back, my life will be finished.

"One of my mum's friends who was deported was killed in a prison in Congo.

If we go back, we might also end up in prison, so please help us."

Every year, 2,000 children are detained by immigration authorities, according to a study by Save the Children. Now a national campaign aims to help young asylum seekers stay in education.

The Institute of Race Relations wants schools to sign a declaration committing themselves to opposing deportations. The campaign follows a series of successful battles by individual schools to keep refugee pupils in education in Britain.

The declaration says: "We believe that the best interests of a child or young person studying in our school should come first and that these are best served by allowing her or him to remain in the UK."

But the campaign faces a hostile political climate as asylum becomes a key issue in the election campaign. Prime Minister Tony Blair came under fire for being unable to say how many failed asylum seekers are in Britain.

Arun Kundnani, spokesman for the institute, said: "We want to send a strong message to the Home Office that the interests of young people should come before the drive to deport people."

One in five asylum rejections is overturned on appeal. Mr Kundnani said the difficulties in obtaining legal advice mean that many more may have been unjustly refused leave to stay in the UK.

Some students facing deportation have been living and studying in the UK for many years and barely know their home country.

Pupils at Canterbury high school in Kent last year won the right for fellow student Amin Buratee, who lost his entire family in Afghanistan, to be released and allowed to take his exams.

In Portsmouth, Lorin and Eva Sulaiman won a two-year reprieve after students at Mayfield school opposed their deportation to Syria, where their father was believed to have been murdered for promoting Kurdish rights.

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