The Lai family was left in despair last night after losing a 14-month-long fight to keep mainland-born daughter Sze-nga with them. The Court of Appeal overturned a ruling that the offspring of permanent residents automatically had right of abode, saying the 'evil' of splitting families had been 'overstated'. Sze-nga, 12, a Primary Four pupil, had won an appeal to stay in January. 'I've been very happy for these few months. I don't know why the judge won't let me live with mum and dad,' wept Sze-nga, who learned of the verdict last night. She said she would rather die than return to the mainland. The youngster arrived on a two-way permit in March, last year, and stayed. Her father Lai Cheuk-fong, a decorator, settled in Hong Kong in 1980 and acquired permanent residency less than two years after Sze-nga was born. Her mother, Lai Ng Mei-lei, a supervisor at a cleaning company, feared her daughter would not be cared for properly on the mainland, where the family had no relatives or friends. 'Sze-nga would have to live in an orphanage if she was sent back. She is too young to live independently,' Mrs Lai said. Three of the couple's five children were born in Hong Kong, but Sze-nga and elder brother Kwun-fai, 13, were born in Shenzhen. Kwun-fai settled here after gaining a one-way permit. Truck driver Ng Sek-nin, 38, fears his son, 11-year-old Ka-ling, and eight-year-old daughter, Tan-tan, who arrived after the handover, could also be removed following yesterday's ruling. 'The ruling is totally inhumane. It is forcing families to be split,' Mr Ng said. Ka-ling and Tan-tan lived with their mother in Shenzhen while Mr Ng lived with the couple's two other sons in Sha Tau Kok, he said. Loose border checks had allowed the family to visit whenever they wished, so they had not bothered to apply for residency until after the handover. Another loser in yesterday's verdict was too upset to say much. Shanwei-born Tsui Kuen-nang, 20, said he arrived in Hong Kong before midnight on June 30 last year, but had told the Immigration Department he arrived on the morning of July 1, believing it was more favourable to him.