Britain denies Gurkha ex-soldiers automatic right to settle

April 24th, 2009 - 8:25 pm ICT by IANS  

London, April 24 (IANS) Thousands of Gurkha soldiers who fought for Britain were told by the British government Friday they do not have an automatic right to settle down in the country.
The British home ministry said some 10,000 Gurkha ex-soldiers and their families would be allowed in as a result of new regulations announced Friday, but campaigners for Gurkhas said the new rules would help fewer than 100 men.

Gurkhas are campaigning for the government to allow in all ex-soldiers who have fought for Britain, but the new rules say Gurkhas would be allowed to settle down only if they had close family in Britain, served 20 years, or been wounded in battle or decorated.

The regulations were rejected as a “sham” by campaigners.

“They have set criteria that are unattainable. They require a Gurkha to serve for 20 years - but a rifleman is only permitted to serve for 15 years. It’s a sham and an absolute disgrace,” said David Enright, a solicitor acting on behalf of the Gurkhas.

According to current rules, only those Gurkhas who left the British Army after 1997, when Hong Kong was handed back to China, have the automatic right to settle down in Britain.

Gurkhas were stationed in large numbers in Hong Kong to protect the territory.

Last year, a High Court judge ruled that the policy excluding older veterans was unlawful and in need of urgent review.

Indian-born actress Joanna Lumley, who is a campaigner for Gurkha rights, said: “The Gurkhas cannot meet these new criteria. It makes me ashamed of our government. We will fight on. We don’t stop. This has been a setback but that is all.”

There are currently around 3,500 serving Gurkhas. More than 200,000 fought during the First and Second World Wars, with between 45,000 and 50,000 giving their lives, according to Lumley.

Two winners of the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest gallantry award, joined the campaigners Friday to voice their shock at the government decision.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said the changes will benefit around 4,300 more Gurkhas out of a total of 36,000 who retired before 1997.

He argued that granting automatic rights of settlement to all Gurkha ex-servicemen could mean allowing in 100,000 people, but Lumley disputed the figures saying: “We’re talking about seven to eight thousand men.”

The Gurkha brigade was formed following the partition of India in 1947 but Nepali Gurkha soldiers have been part of the British Army for almost 200 years.

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