A father who faced being booted out of the UK after bringing his severely injured niece into the country has been given a dramatic last-minute reprieve.
Najat Ibrahim Ismail was at the airport and minutes away from being put on a plane to Iraq when his deportation was unexpectedly halted.
The 32-year-old called it a ‘miracle’ although he remains in a detention centre separated from his British wife and their three children.
He said: ‘I was with the security escorts in a transit van by the plane just sobbing.
‘I had a picture of my children in my hands and I was thinking about whether I would see them again.
‘Then all of a sudden, I was told the plane ticket had been cancelled. It was only about 40 minutes before the plane was scheduled to go.
‘I don’t know the reason but it’s a miracle.
‘I’m very happy now and feeling positive. But I just want to go home to my wife and kids.’
Najat helped save the life of his baby niece after she fell on an open fire at a refugee camp in France.
He brought the five-month-old to the UK for medical treatment but the humanitarian mission saw him end up with a criminal conviction.
That paved the way for the Home Office to begin moves to send him back to Iraq, a country he fled as a teenager.
There is the provision for them to consider ‘compelling circumstances’ but Najat was told neither his case nor his British family would help him stay.
Despite the deportation being halted, Najat remains in limbo over the bank holiday weekend and his legal fight to be reunited with his family continues.
His lawyer Hannah Baynes from Duncan Lewis said: ‘This is certainly by no means over but we are very happy to have this reprieve.
‘It was very last minute and we have not been given a clear indication why the deportation was halted.
‘We know we still have a long road ahead and we are still going on with the legal case.’
Najat, an Iraqi Kurd, was tortured in Iraq and fled the country aged 16 in 2003.
He arrived in the UK the following year and was granted indefinite leave to remain after he married his British wife Emma.
Until his detention, they lived together in Portsmouth with their three children aged six, 10 and 14.
He ran his own car wash business and prided himself on paying taxes and never having claimed benefits.
Najat’s brother Tahsin and his family later fled northern Iraq as terror group Islamic State made their deadly march across the area.
They ended up at the Grande-Synthe refugee camp in Dunkirk, France.
In December 2015, Najat discovered his baby niece Rawen had 50% burns on her body after the fire accident.
Her older brother Mohammed, then eight, was also bleeding from both ears because of an infection.
There were no health improvements after a month and in January 2016 Najat travelled to France.
He brought back his niece, nephew and their mother on false travel documents he had acquired from a smuggler in the camp.
Najat declared it as soon as they landed at Portsmouth ferry port and he was promptly arrested.
He had to report to the police station every day for 18 months until his case came to court.
Najat admitted assisting unlawful immigration and spent 12 months in an open jail.
The judge criticised him but added: ‘I do accept that you were not a person who was trafficking for gain.
‘These were family members you decided to assist.’
Tahsin was reunited with his children and wife Sozan and they have now been granted refugee status in the UK.
Rawen has made a full recovery and is in nursery although Mohammed is deaf in one ear because of the infection.
Najat has always maintained his motives were to save his niece’s life while news of his plight caused a public outcry.
His lawyers say he is not a danger to the UK and there are questions over his mental health and how his children will be impacted by his deportation.
Chai Patel, the legal policy director for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: ‘The Government claims to stand up for family values, for people who are brave and who help others: they must not put Najat on a plane, to never see his children again, just because he tried to do the right thing.
‘More of us should be like him.’
The UK government states that any foreign national who commits a crime in the UK can be considered for removal.
The Home Office have yet to comment on the latest development but said they had removed 47,000 foreign criminals from the UK in the last decade.