BY ROGER BUSHBY A SRI LANICAN family scheduled to be deported back to their home country won a last-minute reprieve last week after tireless campaigning by parishioners in Leicestershire.
Worshippers at a church in Hinckley were so incensed by an early morning irrunigration raid on members of their congregation that they lobbied the local MP, the Government and even the Prime Minister in order to save the family.
Immigration police, wearing bullet proof vests and baseball caps, burst into the home ofJames and Volantina Samynathan two weeks ago at 6am.
The couple, together with their young son, were bundled into a car and taken away to a detention centre near Heathrow Airport and told they would be deported back to Sri Lanka the following Tuesday. The early-morning raid was witnessed by friends and neighbours of the family, who had been devoted worshippers at St Peter's Catholic Church. Congregation members, led by Mary Kelly, a friend of the family, and supported by their priest, Fr Frank Daly, vowed to overturn the deportation order.
They not only launched a petition, but enlisted the help of a member of the House of Lords their local MP David Tredinnick and appealed directly to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The campaigners won a last-minute reprieve, and James and Volantina are now at home with their five-year-old son.
The couple were seized, despite an EU ruling — which came into force in January — saying that no one could be deported to Sri Lanka because they could face imprisonment and torture in the war-torn country. And that. believes Fr Daly, would certainly have happened to the family, as James Samynathan is a Tamil. "The authorities were aware of the ruling," said Fr Daly "but I believe the immigration raid was purely political to show a tough stance. We wrote a very strong letter to Gordon Brown asking him whether he realised he was now presiding over what is becoming a police state. It has worked, but for how
"James and his wife have been worshipping at St Peter's for the past nine years. They are good people who just want to live their lives safely and quietly. They just want to make a contribution. They don't want money — they want to work and earn a living and be safe. But they have been branded as 'undesirable' by the Government, and it is totally ridiculous." This is the second time that the authorities tried to deport the family. A year ago James was held in a detention centre for three months, but tireless campaigning by their friends at St Peter's eventually led to his release.
Sri Lanka is embroiled in civil war as Tamil Tiger rebels fight Government forces for an independent State — and that is why James and his family, says Fr Daly, would without doubt face torture and imprisoanvar
Mr Tredinnick, the Tory MP who lobbied on behalf of the family. said: "James arrived in the back of a container nine years ago. I am happy for the family that he has not been deported."
Volantina Samynathan said she was thankful for the support of the congregation. "We came to this country to feel safe... but we still don't feel safe," she said.