Citizens left behind press for rule change

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Britain's remaining dependent territories will press for a relaxation of immigration rules once Hong Kong returns to the Chinese fold, senior officials have told The Independent.

Hong Kong is by far the largest of the remaining red specks on the map in population terms. When it is gone, what was once the world's largest empire will amount to 16 territories and about 200,000 people.

Destined to become the largest, in population terms, of Britain's remaining Dependent Territories after the handover of Hong Kong next month, Bermuda has served notice that it will press for a relaxation of the rules that force Bermudians into the "other countries" channel at the Heathrow arrivals hall. "It's an irritant," said Pamela Gordon, the premier of Bermuda, in an interview with The Independent. She says she plans to raise a range of immigration issues with the Blair government following the Hong Kong transfer.

Any presentation to the Government will stop far short, however, of a request for full right of abode for Bermudians in the United Kingdom. Bermuda, a speck in the Atlantic, has no interest in such an arrangement if it would entail Britons gaining the equivalent right to settle without hindrance in Bermuda.

Other territories are also pressing for a change in the rules; they feel badly disadvantaged by the 1981 British Nationality Act. The population of St Helena, one of Britain's oldest colonies, feel they have been made prisoners on their own island by the virtually worthless British Dependent Territories Citizen passports, issued mainly to prevent a flood of Hong Kong immigration to Britain.

But many of the territorieswant to press for a higher profile. Many feel hard done by by the Foreign Office, which they call "thoughtless", and forgotten by the Government.

They are equally worried by suggestions that they may be transferred to Clare Short's Ministry for International Development. This would lack logic, they say, for those former colonies that are not aid recipients - the Falklands, Cayman islands, Bermuda and Gibraltar. But more than that, they feel it would be a downgrading, and, according to an official from one, "a slap in the face".