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'Forced into exile for love'

9 November 09 16:07 GMT

A British woman caught up in immigration laws designed to prevent forced marriages, is taking her case to the High Court.

Teenager Amber Aguilar is fighting for her Chilean husband to be allowed to work in the UK.

Amber Aguilar was 17 when she married her Chile-born husband, Diego, in November 2008.

Diego, who is now 19, first moved to the UK at the age of 12 after his mother was granted a student visa. He met his future wife four years later.

But just five days after they wed, new immigration laws came into effect which changed the age limit for visas for newly married couples from 18 to 21.

It was a move designed to protect young women, particularly British Asians, from forced marriages.

But Diego, who has since moved back to Chile with his wife, claims the rules undermine his human right to a family life and discriminates against him on grounds of age - and is taking his case to the High Court.

If his case is successful it may have far-reaching ramifications.

Habib Rahman, chief of executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said it had brought the test case to the High Court because "these immigration rules are tearing families apart".

This sentiment is echoed by Amber, who now finds herself living with her husband in Santiago, while her parents remain in London.

"I have essentially been forced into exile because I want to live with my husband - the man I love and want to spend the rest of my life with," she said.

Household of six

The 18-year-old, who was born in the UK and was in a relationship with her husband for two years before the wed, said her life in the Chilean city is completely different from life in London.

"Diego and I share a single bed in what was previously his 11-year-old sister's room. She is now sharing a single bed with her four-year-old brother. So, with their parents, there are six of us in the house.

"I can't legally work due to my not yet having received my Chilean marriage visa, but I'm volunteering in the local school as an English teaching assistant."

She said Diego, who is a trained electrician, is still looking for work.

"His English qualifications are basically no use to him here. We can only survive because my parents are helping us."

She said her husband had a job in the UK at a holdings company which he had to give up when his visa was refused.

Amber, who would like to be a language teacher, has two A grades and a B at A-level and two offers of university places in the UK.

She believes the "detrimental effects on genuine couples" like her and her husband "outweigh any advantages it might have for a small proportion, those aged 18-21, of forced marriages".

Family life 'violation'

"I don't want to have to choose between higher education and living with my husband. I just want to live, work and study in the country where I was born, with the man I love," she said.

"All I ask is that the government let me return to the country where I was born so that I can start my higher education towards a teaching career - without putting an intolerable emotional and practical strain on my marriage."

The crux of the couple's argument is summed up by Richenda Buxton, the JCWI solicitor in the case, who said: "The government is preventing its younger citizens from living with their spouse in this country if they marry someone from outside the European Union.

"This is a clear violation of the right to a family life."

A Home Office spokeswoman said it "would be inappropriate to comment during an ongoing court case".

However, she stressed the age limits had been put in place in a bid to prevent forced marriages.

She said: "Forced marriage is an appalling and indefensible practice that we are determined to stamp out.

"Victims can suffer physical and emotional damage and can find themselves being held unlawfully captive, assaulted and raped."

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