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This Government have betrayed the Gurkhas and let down our Country

April 24, 2009 11:30 PM
By Tim Prater in www.libdemvoice.org

Angry doesn't even come close.

"A sickening ruling" - www.southeastlibdems.org.uk/news/000280/

"Contempt for this gutless, sickening Government decision" - www.shepwaylibdems.org.uk/news/001518/

"The week Labour lost its last principles" - www.nickclegg.com/2009/04/government-turning-its-back-on-brave-gurkhas/

These are just some reactions to a Government announcement today on settlement rights for Gurkhas who retired before 1997.

So what's the story and background?

Gurkhas have served all across the world in the defence of our country for nearly 200 years. Over 45,000 died in the two World Wars as part of the British Army, and they are still fighting in the British Army today.

But until quite recently, the Gurkhas had no right to citizenship in this country after completing their service in the Army. This rule applied to no other nationality serving in the British Army: just the Gurkhas.

The Lib Dems took up this cause, and in 2004, the Government changed the rules following a major campaign. The change allowed Gurkhas who retired after 1997 (when the regiment moved its main base from Hong Kong to the UK) to stay in this country, but no such right was given to those who retired before 1997. Since that time, Gurkhas and campaigners have been fighting for the same rights for all ex-Gurkha's irrespective of their retirement date.

A High Court ruling in September 2008 judged that the Government's policy was unlawful and unfair, and insisted the Government change their policy. In response today, the Government have made a fresh announcement which extends to right to settlement to a few more Gurkhas, but falls well short of full justice.

To qualify for citizenship under these rules, most Gurkhas who retired before 1997 would have needed to have served 20 years. The normal period of service for a non-officer Gurkha was 15 years. This is a rank based decision, and leaves many thousands of loyal soldiers who fought for this country out it the cold. I mean that literally - without citizenship, there is no right to work or benefits and many Gurkhas are homeless in this country, replying on the generosity of others for somewhere to sleep, something to eat.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said: "This guidance honours the service, commitment and gallantry of those who served with the Gurkhas brigade". It does no such thing - the majority of those who retired before 1997 in the Gurkhas will get no help whatsoever for this ruling.

The Campaign for Gurkha Justice led by Joanna Lumley is now working with renewed determination. To keep in touch with the campaign and add your support, visit www.gurkhajustice.org.uk and sign up.

In breaking news, Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg has decided to use the Opposition Day debate in Parliament on Wednesday 29th April to call (again) for a fair deal for Gurkhas. Governments just don't lose Opposition Day votes. If they lose this one, it would be a huge wake-up call to the Government.

On Wednesday, there will also be a Gurkha Justice rally and protest against the Government's decision, starting at noon in Old Palace Yard, Westminster - all welcome.

However you can help:

...the Gurkhas need your help. They have never let us down: it's time to repay our debt.