AN ANXIOUS couple are desperately trying to overturn an immigration ruling which is preventing their orphaned nephew and niece living in the UK.

Unlike popstar Madonna's planned adopted child, David and Elizabeth Lee are facing major hurdles in getting British residency for their young niece and nephew, who live in Africa.

Bruno Kajombo, eight, and his nine-year-old sister Stella were left orphaned after their mother Helen, 33, died in a car accident in May.

The youngsters lost their father to Aids in 2003, so they are now being looked after by struggling relatives in their homeland, Malawi.

But Helen's sister Elizabeth Lee, 35, and her husband David, 45, are desperately trying to bring the children to the UK where they believe they will have a better upbringing.

Mr Lee, of Erlanger Road, New Cross Gate, said: "The children are currently being looked after by their uncle in Malawi but he is unemployed and unable to support them.

"We are sending money out to them every month so they are cared for.

"It was always agreed we would have the children if anything happened to Helen but now the authorities won't let us.

"It's clear money speaks volumes. Madonna is able to rush her adoption through quickly, while we are not allowed to bring our own family to live with us."

Mr Lee, as sponsor, made an application for two visas to the immigration service at the British High Commission in Malawi in August.

But the application was turned down and because the children have relatives who could care for them in their homeland.

The couple have now appealed the decision and their solicitor has written to the commission, asking entry and clearance officers to change their mind.

If the decision is not overturned by the commission, the couple will have to wait until February 22 next year before the papers are served to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal based at Taylor House in north London.

Solicitor Kamla Adiseshiah from the Citizens' Advice Bureau said: "The most important issue here is the welfare of the children and there is plenty of evidence to show the children are dependent on the Lees.

"Mr and Mrs Lee are the children's permanent carers and it makes sense to allow them to come and live in the UK."

Mr Lee, an assistant headteacher at Horn Park Primary School, Alnwick Road, Lee, added: "The children are very traumatised after losing both parents.

"We desperately want them here with us to give them the supportive family atmosphere they deserve.

"Their relatives in Malawi don't have the resources to care for them.

"We would just love the officers at the high commission in Malawi to change their minds so we can get this sorted quickly, rather than having to take it to a tribunal next year."

The couple, who have an 11-year-old daughter, Ekom, have informed Lewisham and Deptford MP Joan Ruddock about the situation.

Ms Ruddock has described the authority's decision not to co-operate as "extraordinary".

The British High Commission in Malawi and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London were both unavailable for comment.