Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Ghurkhas Still Fighting

by Kathryn Hadley

On September 30th 2008, the London High Court ruled in favour of five Gurkha veterans and a Gurkha widow who had condemned the immigration law prohibiting UK residence to Gurkhas who had retired before July 1997, when the Brigade of Gurkhas base was moved from Hong Kong to the UK. An estimated remaining 2,000 veterans were still refused residence as a result of their retirement prior to 1997, and the judge, Mr Blake, set the Home Office a deadline of three months to review these specific immigration restrictions applicable to Gurkhas.

At the end of 2008, however, the government had made little progress and asked a tribunal for a three-month extension to produce proposals for new legislation and to review the remaining appeals. A couple of weeks ago, delays in government action led to protests and criticisms of the fact that the cases of more than 1,300 Gurkhas wanting to settle in Britain were still awaiting reviews.

Last week, however, the representative of the Gurkhas, Edward Fitzgerald QC, reportedly told Mr Justice Blake at the High Court that the new policies on the rights of Gurkhas to settle in the UK would be announced within the next month. Fitzgerald claimed that lawyers representing the Gurkhas and the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, had agreed on most issues. Smith wished, however, to discuss the new proposals with Parliament first. Edward Fitzgerald reported that the Home Secretary had agreed to announce the new policy in parliament by 24 April and to reconsider the five leading Gurkha cases in the light of the announced policy before May 7th. Hundreds of other outstanding cases would also be reviewed by June 11th.

Many former servicemen have died whilst waiting for their cases to be resolved. Rifleman Prem Bahadur Pun notably died just two weeks ago, on March 15th.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said that anyone prepared to die for Britain should be allowed to live there. He criticised the government claiming that:

‘Ministers have dragged their heels and denied justice to these Gurkhas for too
long, and are only now agreeing a new policy because the courts have forced
them. The deliberate delay in making this decision is a gross insult to the
honour of these veterans.’

A battle which continues to be fought and a story to follow up… Updates on Jacqui Smith’s announcement of the new policy will follow in April…

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