· Eldest alleges she was raped in Uganda
· Home Office says it has the right to expel them
Wednesday October 12, 2005
The three, aged between three and 16, told the Guardian they feared they would be raped and beaten if they were returned like their mother to their native country.
It is believed to be the first case in which the Labour government has returned a mother to her country of origin without her dependent children. The woman, who received an NHS bursary and won a student nurse of the year award while in Britain, was detained without her children on September 8 and taken to Yarlswood detention centre in Bedfordshire. She was deported five days later. The eldest child, a girl, who left college to look after her siblings, said: "We are hiding from the Home Office for safety reasons. We don't trust them, they can do anything."
Supporters of the family made the children wards of court in a legal manoeuvre intended to stop them being returned to Uganda. They cannot be identified for legal reasons. Yesterday the Home Office said that wardship would not deprive the home secretary of his right to remove them. A spokesman said: "It would be wrong in principle not to seek to reunite children with their families where possible."
Speaking in a south London playground, the eldest girl broke down as she tried to describe what had happened to her as a child. "We weren't safe back in Uganda. We got tortured, beaten and raped. The army were looking for dad so they came to us, thinking we knew where he was. When all of it started, I was around five or six. When I was around seven, it got worse. That's when they raped me. We came to London to escape it all."
The family sought asylum in Britain in January 2001, the mother claiming that she and her eldest child had been raped and tortured following the desertion of her husband, an officer in the Ugandan army. In a letter rejecting her asylum claim, the Home Office said that rapes and beatings did not amount to persecution.
The children have not spoken to their mother since her removal because it is "too upsetting". The eldest child said: "I am worried that when I become 18, they will deport me and the kids will be left behind."
The authorities seized their mother when she was signing a police station register - a condition of her temporary leave to remain. The children have decided they want to stay in Britain. The girl said: "I have been detained, I have been handcuffed. It's like starting the whole thing again. If I have to choose to go back to mum or stay here, I'd stay here because really we know she ain't going to survive in Uganda. I don't want what I went through as a little girl to happen to the baby."
Her brother, 15, said: "All we are trying to do is get a better life. I feel let down." In its annual report, Amnesty International said of Uganda: "Reports of rape, including of young girls, were widespread and appeared to be on the increase."
Emma Ginn, of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, said: "The Home Office knows that rape is one of the most common weapons of war, yet they often refuse to believe accounts of the type of abuse they themselves have documented, describing rape as a random act of criminality."
Immigration, asylum and refugees: archived articles
Home Office: Immigration and Nationality Directorate
Human Rights Watch: refugees
International Committee of the Red Cross: refugees
Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants