Anger at decision on Gurkha veterans

Friday 24 April 2009 15:30 BST
(Getty Images)

The Government today loosened, but didn't eliminate, immigration restrictions for Nepalese veterans of the country's armed forces.

The government said the change would allow about 4,000 more Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 to live permanently in Britain.

But advocates for the Nepalese soldiers said the new policy was still too limited and imposed too many conditions on those seeking the right to settle in the UK.

The Nepalese soldiers, mercenaries recruited from the Himalayan hills, have fought for Britain for about 200 years, including recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Immigration rules introduced five years ago allowed Gurkhas with at least four years' service to settle in the UK, but the rules didn't apply to Gurkhas discharged from the British Army before 1997. The government argued some of those veterans had weak links to Britain and should have their cases reviewed individually, rather than having an automatic right to settle.

The rules announced Friday say the Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997 — more than 30,000, according to government estimates — can settle automatically if certain conditions are met.

Those could include having served 20 years, receiving a military award or having incurred an injury while serving. Special consideration will also be given for those who have family living in Britain.

"They have set criteria that are unattainable," Gurkha lawyer David Enright said, noting that some Gurkha veterans weren't even allowed to serve as long as 20 years. "It's a sham and an absolute disgrace."

Actress Joanna Lumley, known for her role as Patsy on the television show "Absolutely Fabulous," and a longtime supporter of the Gurkhas, said, "The Gurkhas cannot meet these new criteria. It makes me ashamed of our government."

The government's actions Friday followed a court decision last year ordering a rewrite of the immigration for the older Gurkha vets. Enright said Gurkha advocates would now take their case back to the court.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said it was unrealistic for Gurkha advocates to think that the government could allow all those who served before 1997 to settle in Britain.

"It has never been the case that all Gurkhas pre-1997 were going to be allowed to settle in this country. Were we to do that, with their dependents, you could be looking at up to 100,000 people," Woolas said.

Enright said such figures are unrealistic, because not all of the vets who retired before 1997 actually want to come to Britain.

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