North East academics fear being forced out of UK over humanitarian work

Durham University's Palatine Centre.
Durham University's Palatine Centre.

Two Durham-based academics say they are being forced out of the country for doing their jobs after spending time in their native Mexico on humanitarian projects.

The Home Office has given married couple Dr Ernesto Schwartz-Marin and Dr Arely Cruz-Santiago 14 days to leave the country because they have lost their Indefinite Leave to Remain.

The Durham University academics have been working in Mexico on a project to help families of victims of the country's brutal drugs war.

The Home Office says people with Indefinite Leave to Remain are allowed out of the UK for lengthy periods as long as they are working on emergency humanitarian projects.

The couple, whose 11-year-old daughter Camila goes to school in Durham, have tried to argue that their work fulfilled the criteria, but they have been told it does not qualify.

The academics have been in the UK for 10 years and their visa conditions are that they must stay continuously in the country for five years.

They are mounting a legal appeal against the decision.

Dr Schwartz-Marin, an anthropologist, said: "We are being punished for doing our jobs.

"It is part of my job description to do fieldwork.

"We thought our case was a no-brainer and the authorities would be clear in deciding what we did was a humanitarian project.

"There have been 160,000 dead and 32,000 disappeared in the last 10 years."

Their research involved setting up a DNA database to help families find loved ones who were victims of drug gangs.

Dr Schwartz-Marin felt it would be unsafe to carry on the work without the protection of working for a British university if they were forced out of the UK and back to Mexico.

Professor Tim Clark of the university said: "We are not able to comment on personal circumstances.

"However, we are committed to supporting our staff wherever possible and we are providing such support in this instance."

The family has been supported by a petition against the decision and is receiving legal advice from immigration law experts.