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19 Mar 2003 : Column 1057—continued


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

International Development

Question agreed to.

Mr. Speaker: With the leave of the House, I shall put together the Questions on motions 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

International Development

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 18(1)(a)(Consideration of draft regulatory reform orders),


Question agreed to.

19 Mar 2003 : Column 1058

Panxhi Family

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Woolas.]

7.32 pm

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise in the House this evening the case of the Panxhi family and their application for asylum in this country. As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, the family currently reside in your constituency of Springburn; I know that you are very familiar with the circumstances of their case and have taken a close interest.

The family consist of Mrs. Valentina Panxhi and her children—Brikena, aged 12, Enea, aged 9 and Grace, who was born in 2001 when the family had arrived in Scotland. Mrs. Panxhi's husband, Edmond, was a prominent member of the minority Albanian Monarchist party and had suffered a period of harassment, including a number of violent beatings and death threats. In January 2000, their daughter Brikena was harassed at school by the secret services. On another occasion, Mrs. Panxhi was stopped in the street by some men and threatened. As the threats intensified, the family went into hiding. Mr. Panxhi was arrested in September that year, but after his release the family decided that their safety was not secure in their home country and they made plans to escape. Mrs. Panxhi, then pregnant with Grace, together with the two older children, left Albania in November, with the intention that her husband would join them at a later date when he was able to get enough money. There is no doubt in the Panxhi family's mind, and in the minds of all the many people who have taken an interest in their case, that they were in genuine fear of persecution and the threat of violence if they remained in Albania at that time.

Sadly, a short time after Mrs. Panxhi and her children had arrived in the United Kingdom, they were advised that Edmond Panxhi had been killed. It is difficult to imagine how the family must have felt: strangers in an unfamiliar country, their initial application for asylum refused, terrified of returning to their home and grief-stricken at the sudden, violent death of a beloved husband and father. However, it was their resilience and courage in facing up to that tragic news that so impressed the many, many people in Scotland who support their request to remain in this country. I very much hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), will agree to reconsider her Department's earlier decision.

Such was the tremendous response to the family's plight that a small number of local Glasgow people went to Albania on a fact-finding mission in June last year. They were led by the Rev. Bryan Owen, a Church of Scotland minister who has just retired after more than 30 years as minister of St. Rollox church. As you know, Mr. Speaker, he is a well-respected figure in the local Springburn community.

The group interviewed a large number of people in Elbasan and Tiranc and received a great deal of corroboration of Mrs. Panxhi's story of the problems

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faced by the family before their escape to the UK. However, as I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will appreciate, it is difficult to discover hard evidence that can be put to a UK tribunal or court system. Although members of the fact-finding group could not prove that Edmond Panxhi was killed for political reasons, they were convinced that he was dead.

All the people who knew Edmond Panxhi told the group that he was a somewhat secretive person who did not tell others about his business, but that he was loving and caring to his family and could not have remained out of touch with them if he was alive. Members of the group were also told by all their Albanian contacts, including the Elbasan police, that he had absolutely no contact with crime and thus no reason to fake his own death.

Rev. Owen and and his colleagues spoke to a number of local people in the small village at Gjinar where the family had hidden in 2000. They confirmed that the Panxhi family had stayed with them and that during that time Mrs. Panxhi had been terrified of suffering further violence. In particular, she had been afraid of Colonel Koseni, the now discredited chief of police in Elbasan. I hope that the Minister will accept that the family's motives for leaving Albania were genuine and not economically motivated.

The Minister will be aware that, although there have been improvements in Albania, widespread corruption and violence are still common. Mrs. Panxhi fears greatly for the safety of her son, Enea. Albania is still blighted by a blood feud culture; when a son comes of age he is expected to avenge the death of his father. Commenting on the case, Jim Wallace MSP, Minister for Justice in the Scottish Executive, said that there was

As I have already mentioned, despite the many harsh problems faced by the family over the last few years, their courage and dignity have impressed many. There has been widespread media interest in Brikena's musical talents. When she arrived in this country she spoke no English but she is now bilingual and has an exemplary record at her local school, St. Roch's secondary. She also studies violin at the junior academy of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, where she was awarded a Wolfson scholarship last year. She was also among the three finalists for The Scotsman young achiever of the year award in November 2001, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) will be aware, since I understand that he was one of the judges.

Brikena's violin teacher, Mr. Hugh MacGilp, who has taught young musicians for more than 40 years, has written personally to the Home Office on her behalf. He strongly believes that she has the potential to be a professional musician provided that she receives the level of support from which she currently benefits. Specifically, he pointed to considerable gaps in her knowledge when she arrived from Albania. The head of the junior academy has also written to the Home Office to confirm that despite the enormous pressures and uncertainties that she faces, she is making excellent

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progress and is developing a musical ability that will enable her to make a positive and constructive contribution to society in her later life.

If the family were to return to Albania they would meet extreme hardship. They could not expect accommodation or financial help from Mrs. Panxhi's family, as they are already living under straitened circumstances. Mrs. Panxhi would have difficulty in finding work while looking after a young baby and, in all likelihood, Brikena would have to leave school at the earliest opportunity to earn money, and her musical education would not continue.

A musical talent such as Brikena's is a rare gift. I played a musical instrument—not terribly well—at school but I watched one of my school colleagues develop her skills at the Royal Scottish Academy and go on to become a professional musician. Playing music well is a genuine joy, but that talent, especially for those who want to be classical players, needs a huge amount of work and practice from an early age.

The UN convention on the rights of the child speaks about the need to

Of course, many children in today's world unfortunately never get the opportunity to develop their true talents, but to have been given that opportunity and then have it taken away is just as cruel.

Mrs. Panxhi and her family have made a real and positive contribution to the local community in Springburn and, if they had an opportunity to stay, would seek to be economically independent at the earliest opportunity. They have suffered great trauma in the past few years and wish only to live peacefully and quietly in our city. In Springburn, they have experienced some feeling of security, but they genuinely remain very afraid for their safety and future if they must return to Albania at this time.

I thank the Minister for taking further time to consider this case, and I ask her to consider the very strong compassionate reasons for allowing the family to remain in the United Kingdom. The people of Springburn and Glasgow have welcomed them and ask the Minister now to allow them to stay with us.

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