The Muslim couple from Tamil Nadu last saw or talked to their children — a son, 11, and daughter, 9 — in August 2015, when the Birmingham City Council authorities took them away, into foster care. The only information they have had since is that the two are in the care of a Pakistani family. Now, the 51-year-old father and his wife, 46, are waging a legal battle, aided by the Consulate General of India in Birmingham, to not just get back their children but to also ensure that the authorities don’t make them British citizens.
It remains unclear why the children were taken away. Read this story in Tamil
On August 6, a UK Court of Appeal judgment concluded that the Birmingham Children’s Trust must seek the court’s approval before any attempt to apply for British citizenship for the children. “Changing a child’s citizenship is a momentous step with profound and enduring consequences,” the court said.
It also described the case as a “challenging one for everyone”, with the Tamil-speaking parents requiring interpreters.
Talking to The Indian Express from the UK, the 51-year-old says that soon after their children were taken, his wife had left the country for Singapore, to be with her mother. She was pregnant and afraid their third child would be taken as well, he says. He wanted to leave too but stayed back to fight for his children, doing odd jobs to survive.
“I have no clue about my son and daughter,” says the mother, speaking from Singapore. “What was our crime? They were studying in a good school. What has happened to them, their studies?” she says, breaking down.
The Consulate General of India in Birmingham said it has been providing consular and legal assistance to the parents in their legal battle. “We had submitted in the honorable Family Court in Birmingham that the Indian Consulate wishes to provide assistance for the children’s welfare and provide the necessary arrangements (for) Indian passports for the children and will fund the… transportation to India,” it said in a statement.
The reasons behind the children’s removal from their parents’ care were not revealed in court, but a ruling in December last year said they must remain in long-term foster care for the remainder of their childhoods.
A civil engineering diploma holder, the 51-year-old used to work as a surveyor at his native place near Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu, before leaving for the UK in 2004. His wife joined him in 2006. The children were born in the UK. In 2014, with his status still that of an illegal immigrant, he approached the Birmingham City Council for assistance.
The father says it were the authorities at his children’s school who had asked him to do so. “But the Birmingham City Council accused that I was using my children to seek financial aid. They put them in foster care.”
Pointing out that there were no charges against him, including of domestic abuse, the father claims the City Council didn’t provide interpreters and hence they, especially his wife, couldn’t understand what was going on.
He moved an appeal in the Royal Court of Justice. He claims an order to hand over the custody of children to either of the parents or their relatives was never executed by the authorities.
The Birmingham Consulate General had also helped the parents procure a home study report from the Child Welfare Committee, Nagapattinam, regarding prospective custodians back in India. The committee had certified that the children’s custody may be granted to the family. The Tamil Nadu officials were not available for comment.
In the latest appeal, the father was represented by Harish Salve, former Solicitor General of India and a Queen’s Counsel in the UK. Salve stepped in after Suranya Iyer, a Delhi-based activist and lawyer, approached him.
Iyer says, “Even after a UK court refused to categorise them as illegal immigrants, the Birmingham City Council used it to keep the children. They said they would give the children citizenship to counter the parents.”
The Birmingham Children’s Trust said it was going through the August 6 order.
The father says it is getting more and more difficult for him to stay on in the UK. “I lost my part-time job in a restaurant four months ago due to Covid.” —with PTI from London
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