By Rachael Bunyan
October 18, 2019

A two-year-old girl is facing deportation from the U.K. even though her parents each hold a British passport, in a move described as “cruel and sadistic” by a U.K. human rights lawyer.

Lucy Dutton was born in South Africa and brought to the United Kingdom by her parents in August 2018, when she was 11 months old. Her parents, both originally from South Africa, claimed British citizenship through their parents, who were born in the U.K.

But British citizenship through descent only extends to one generation, meaning Lucy does not have an automatic right to stay in the U.K. Her child visitor’s visa expired in February, and her parents’ subsequent attempts to apply for a right for Lucy to remain in the U.K. have been unsuccessful.

Laws regarding who is allowed to stay in the U.K. have generally become stricter since the Conservative Party came to power in 2010; the previous laws were “softer and more generous” according to Shoaib Khan, a U.K. human rights lawyer.

In particular, the eligibility criteria for visas allowing family members of British citizens to remain in the U.K. were narrowed in 2012 — the visa is now only available to those who require long-term care, which can only be provided by their relatives in the U.K. But in Lucy’s case, the British government argue that this care can be provided in South Africa if her parents return with her.

On Oct. 8, the British interior ministry, known as the Home Office, told Lucy in a letter that her application had been declined because she had not lived continuously in the U.K. for seven consecutive years. They said Lucy had 14 days to leave the country or appeal the ruling. It was two days before her second birthday.

“When I found about their decision, I broke down sobbing. I was in one hell of a mess at work,” her mother Lindsay Dutton, 30, told TIME, speaking from her home in Swansea, Wales. “I never in a million years expected it to be a refusal. It was the worst day of my life — I’ve cried myself to sleep every night since receiving the letter.”

Lucy’s family are appealing the decision and fighting for her to remain in the U.K, but say they are struggling to make ends meet. Her mother already took out a high-interest loan to pay for £3,052 ($3,938) in administrative and legal fees. But they have to raise an additional (£3140) $4,051 to fund an appeal of the decision, before their case is heard in court in November. Dutton says she is unable to borrow more money, so instead she’s set up a Go Fund Me page to raise the funds.

“It’s devastating what they’ve done to me. It’s cruel. I’m a single parent… and to expect me to come up with about £6,000 is ridiculous,” Dutton told TIME. “I’m doing everything I can. I don’t know why they want to rip us away from our family.”

Speaking about setting up a Go Fund Me page, she said: “It knocks a person to have to basically beg for people to help our because you have no other way of helping out your daughter… She’s the most important thing in my world, I’d do anything for her and I just feel it’s out of my reach.”

Ms Dutton says the situation is already affecting her daughter. “As much as we try to keep brave faces around her, she has picked up on stuff. Since she was one, she was sleeping in her cot. But now she insists on sleeping on my chest and she cries for me,” she said. “That’s heartbreaking as a parent. You would hope that she doesn’t know what is going on, but it’s obviously affecting her that she needs me to cuddle her the whole night.”

Shoaib Khan, a U.K. human rights lawyer, has described the actions of the U.K. Home Office as “cruel and sadistic”.

“This case, while heartbreaking, and probably unbelievable for anyone unfamiliar with the U.K. immigration system, is neither rare nor unusual,” Mr Khan told TIME. “Such decisions are no accident, and are a foreseeable consequence of the government deliberately making inhumane, extreme and cruel laws in order to meet arbitrary targets. Tens of thousands of families have been separated due to these cruel policies.”

“The appeal will cost the family thousands of pounds – all because the Home Office made this ridiculous, inhumane decision,” he added. “This is cruel and sadistic, but has somehow become an accepted part of living in modern-day Britain.”

A U.K. Home Office spokesperson told TIME: “All applications are considered on their individual merits and on the basis of the evidence available. We will be in contact with the family shortly to discuss next steps.”

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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