'They made us the poorest of the poor' say Gurkhas

They celebrated victory in their fight for the right to live here. Now the Gurkhas feel betrayed and exploited. Terri Judd hears their grievances

In a gentle voice that belied his former rank as a sergeant-major, Gyanraj Rai spoke of the plight of his fellow Gurkhas. Sitting in his cramped flat at the top of a dilapidated block in Reading, the white-haired ex-soldier explained that the men who once served Queen and country proudly were barefoot beggars in their homeland.

"They deserve a fair pension," he said, before a fleeting moment when his eyes became steely: "If it is not sorted out some of them are going to go on hunger strike to the death."

Last summer, the Gurkha community celebrated a David and Goliath victory when, led by the actress turned goddess Joanna Lumley, they forced the Government to make a U-turn and to allow them to settle in the country they served.

But the jubilation has soured. The Gurkha community, once noted for its dignified battle for equal rights, has shattered into angry divisions, punctuated by accusations and counter-accusations. Each group is accusing the others of ripping off the veterans. In the words of one of them, they have become the "milking cows". Ms Lumley has maintained a public silence.

Gyanraj Rai insisted he'd warned campaigners that to fight for settlement rights in the UK without increasing the Gurkhas' pension (20 per cent of other British soldiers) would draw veterans to the UK to claim more money.

Many have been drawn to Britain with promises of pension subsidies, housing benefits and free health care. But they have been forced to place themselves deeply in debt to fund the hundreds of pounds they need for visas and plane tickets and have failed to appreciate that – with the difference in the cost of living – any additional benefits here will still leave them impoverished with families to feed back home. Campaigners insisted that if they had been given equal pension rights along with settlement rights, most would have chosen to stay in Nepal.

"They made us the bravest of the brave, then they made us the poorest of the poor. They sent us home almost barefoot. Thousands of veterans have died of malnutrition and lack of medication. They would rather stay in Nepal but they are penniless so they are borrowing money, selling their cows and buffaloes to come here," explained Gyanraj Rai, of United British Gurkhas Ex-Servicemen's Association (UBGEA).

Pig farmer Dirga Bahadur Sunuwar, who arrived two weeks ago, explained that, as a Rifleman discharged from the Gurkha Transport Regiment before 1975, he was not entitled to a pension. When the law changed, the 63-year-old borrowed £10,000 in the hope of bringing his family to Britain. The visas for three of them cost him £2,300. Yet elderly, unskilled and unable to speak the language he was unlikely to get work and would have to rely on benefits.

Ten days ago Minister for Veterans Kevan Jones ordered an inquiry after accusing the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen's Association (Gaeso) in Nepal of taking a donation of £500 from each veteran and giving them false expectations about Britain. In turn the organisation has levelled similar accusations at others.

This week Deepak Maskey, general secretary of the UNGEA wrote to the Justice Secretary Jack Straw, calling on him to investigate every organisation involved in dealing with the Gurkhas insisting it was likely to reveal evidence of organisations "illegally charging enormous fees from innocent Gurkha veterans adding to their destitution". The only thing that appears to unite the Gurkhas is the fact that they all accuse the British government of extortionate visa fees of between £585 to £870 for each veteran and dependent wanting a settlement visa. Add on the airfare to Britain, they explain, and it amounts to the equivalent of an annual salary in Nepal.

Gurkhas who retired before 1997, when the regiments relocated to the UK from Hong Kong, were granted the right to settle in the UK last summer. But their pension remains around one-fifth of other soldiers.

At the British Gurkha Welfare Society (BGWS) office in Farnborough where he has worked as a live-in caretaker since arriving three weeks ago, former Sgt Gajindra Rai, 50, explained that he hoped to find a job so he could bring his wife Sumitra, who is suffering from ovarian cancer, to Britain.

Gaeso, he claimed, had charged him £900 – including the visa fee – for advice, adding: "They talked about lots of benefits and housing but I have found nothing. I am very angry. I feel very betrayed to have been given the wrong information. I am very lucky the BGWS helped me."

Former Colour Sergeant Meg Bahadur Gurung, of BGWS, said they were having to pick up the pieces and did not take money: "Quite a few of the older generation come to Heathrow expecting a vehicle to pick them up and take them to a house."

At their offices in Aldershot, Gaeso members insisted rival associations were trying to tarnish their good name unfairly and denied taking anything but voluntary donations.

Beneath a photograph of Ms Lumley, former Cpl Dhanpal Rai, said: "We are unhappy [about] these allegations. The MoD must fairly investigate whether the allegation is true." He continued: "It is BGWS that is collecting money. " He denied that they were giving veterans false ideas of what they could expect in Britain.

All the organisations agreed that the way to solve the situation was to give Gurkhas equal pension rights.

But last night the MoD insisted that the Gurkha Rifleman's pension was equivalent to that of a GP in Nepal, adding: "Gurkha pensions can be paid from the age of 33, up to 27 years before a British soldier with the same service would begin to receive anything. In the year 2000, Gurkha Pension Scheme (GPS) pensions were doubled and have since received an annual rise for inflation."

As for Ms Lumley's silence, Deepak Maskey wrote to Mr Straw: "There is no need for people like Mr Kevan Jones MP to point fingers at Ms Lumley... as I said, the whole mess was created by the MoD UK and the only difference now is that it is being publicly exposed by Gurkha veterans' arrival in the UK."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect