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Dear Mr Blunkett It is my second birthday in detention. I want my brother to spend his with his friends. Can you please help me? Nikola Garzova, Room 409, Dungavel.


LAST week, The Sunday Mail told how the Garza family found themselves locked up in a former Scots prison after fleeing abuse from neo-Nazis in their native Slovakia.

In the days that followed, other detainees at Dungavel, near Strathaven, Lanarkshire, went on hunger strike in protest at the time taken to deal with their cases. On Friday, the Garza family were told they were being transferred to another detention centre in London.

Dusan, 32; wife Agata, 34; and children, Nikola, 13; Adrian, 11; and 21-month-old Vanesa, who is brain damaged, were given no warning.

Shortly before the move, Nikola wrote this letter to Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Dear Mr Blunkett

I know you are a busy and important person, but I write because my family is in a sad and bad situation.

My name is Nikola. I am from Slovakia. I am only 13, a little teenager.

My birthday was on April 2. I spent it in the detention centre. It's my second birthday in a detention centre.

I lived in Gateshead. I liked it there. It was the best place I have ever been. I had lots of friends. They did not forget about me. I knew that because they sent lots of cards. My birthday was sad, so is my family.

My mum and dad worry about my little sister, Vanesa. She is 21 months old. She can't sit, can't walk and talk. She can't really see. She missed her hearing test. She has problems, but she is absolutely beautiful. In Gateshead there was a team of doctors and they helped. If doctors can continue my little sister will be like a normal child.

My brother Adrian, his birthday is on April 24, he will be 12. I wish for him

to spend his birthday in Gateshead with friends. Can you help me with it? Please!

In this country my family are happy. Please don't send us back to our country. PLEASE don't forget my family.

From Nikola Garzova,

Room 409, DungavelTHESE are the heartbreaking words penned by 13-year-old refugee Nikola Garzova in a last desperate bid to be allowed to live a 'normal' life.

She wrote to Home Secretary David Blunkett just days before her family were moved from the Dungavel detention centre in Lanarkshire to another detention centre in London.

The move came within days after the family's plight was exposed in the Sunday Mail. The Slovakian family were woken at 7am on Friday and told they were being moved to Harmondsworth Centre.

Dusan, 32; his wife Agata, 34; and their children, Nikola, Adrian, who will be 12 later this month, and Vanesa, 21 months, who is brain damaged, were given no warning and were not even able to inform their solicitor in London.

The family's application for asylum had been rejected, but they had been living in the community at Gateshead, Tyneside, until a few weeks ago while they awaited the outcome of legal moves.

Because of Vanesa's acute medical needs - she also has problems with her sight and hearing - their situation had gained media attention on Tyneside.

But they were moved to Scotland soon after their plight became known locally.

Joan Moon, who befriended the family when they were in Gateshead, said history had repeated itself.

She said: "I have no doubt they have been singled out again because they have attracted sympathetic press coverage.

"It is absolutely shameful. I spoke to the family as they prepared to leave their room at Dungavel. They had been told they would be in London that night and back in Slovakia the next day.

"The children were absolutely terrified and I could hear Vanesa crying.

"Agata was crying too and could hardly speak. But I did hear her say, 'Why are we not human beings like everybody else?'

"It is absolutely heartbreaking."

The family fled Slovakia just over a year ago because they suffered racial persecution.

Agata had been badly beaten by racist skinheads in Kosice, where the family lived, because her husband is from the hated Roma minority, traditionally travelling people.

Agata still has internal problems as a result of the assault.

Vanesa's brain injury is believed to have occurred either as a result of the attack or due to lack of oxygen during the turbulent birth that resulted.

A Home Office spokeswoman said Nikola's letter had not yet been received but that the Home Secretary would be made aware of it when it arrived.

She denied the family's move from Dungavel was linked to media interest. Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, a charity that campaigns for the rights of refugees, said: "This family has done no harm to anyone. Yet, they were wakened at 7am and told to get ready to move.

"Their lawyer wasn't told about the move, so no one was there to stand in their defence. What kind of justice, what kind of democracy is that?"

She and Joan Moon have pledged to launch a nationwide campaign to demand the family be allowed to remain in the UK.

Dotun Adeosun, the Nigerian who tried to commit suicide at Dungavel last month, was also moved on Friday. His lawyers have not been told where he has gone.

Mr Adeosun had been kept in solitude since his suicide attempt and was the first detainee to go on hunger strike.

More than 40 others joined him last week, but by the weekend most had given up. It is understood Mr Adeosun, an economics graduate, was still refusing solids.

Jim Henry, of the Friends of Refugees group in Ayrshire, said the atmosphere had changed at Dungavel on Friday. He and a group of friends had been forced to leave their wallets and car keys at the reception.

They were also prevented from giving toys and clothes to children of the asylum seekers they were visiting.

He said: "We were told the toys might not conform to British standards. We offered to go through them for the kitemark but were told not to bother.

"Someone doesn't like the fact that the appalling situation of these people is attracting media interest."
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 14, 2002
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