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25 juli 2012

Commonwealth soldiers face deportation

Commonwealth soldiers who have risked their lives for Britain are facing deportation and destitution under new rules which deny them British citizenship.

Commonwealth soldiers face deportation
Bale Baleiwai and his British wife Kim are living on their savings while they fight deportation  Photo: Geoff Pugh
Commonwealth recruits to the British forces can claim citizenship after four years’ service.
But a Sunday Telegraph investigation has found that a growing number are being refused it. Unable to work or claim benefits, they and their families rely on charity handouts to survive.
Veterans’ groups say they are seeing dozens of new cases every month as the rule changes bite.
“This is turning into a major problem for us, and for the people involved it can be a total disaster,” said Hugh Milroy, chief executive of Veterans’ Aid.
“As a nation, we should hang our heads in shame at what is being done to these people.”
Lance-Corporal Bale Baleiwai, a Fijian, served for 13 years in the Army, including operational tours to Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Northern Ireland, winning four medals, exemplary reports from his commanding officers and even being used in recruitment adverts.
He has a British wife and children. But he has been refused citizenship, banned from working, and faces imminent removal – because he once accepted a commanding officer’s punishment after getting into a fight with another soldier.
The punishment was imposed at a military summary hearing in the CO’s office lasting ten minutes. L/Cpl Baleiwai had no legal representation.
No witnesses were called and he was not told that five other soldiers were prepared to testify that he had acted in self-defence.
However, for immigration purposes, a military summary punishment counts the same as a criminal conviction in a civilian court, disqualifying the applicant from citizenship.
Under the old rules, discretion was allowed and would almost certainly have been granted for such a minor, non-criminal offence.
However, since April last year all discretion has been removed and anyone with any offence whatever must be refused.
Dozens have fallen victim, including a gunner from 12 Regiment, Royal Artillery, who wanted to plead not guilty to a charge of careless driving but was sent to Afghanistan and convicted in his absence.
“It is grossly unfair that despite their service to the country, soldiers are actually worse hit by this than anything else,” said Dr Milroy.
“Military offences include huge numbers of things which are not offences in civilian life. We fully expect to see good and loyal Commonwealth soldiers refused citizenship for failing to salute, or not having their boots shined.”
In other cases, Commonwealth soldiers are not told about a rule that they must apply for citizenship within 28 days of leaving the Army. MoD guidance on its website states the rule.
Anyone who misses the limit is treated as an “overstayer” subject to removal and banned from working.
Though immigration rules are supposed to allow soldiers two years, “overstayers” must return home and apply from there. Kaedon White, from Jamaica, who taught Prince Harry to drive an armoured reconnaissance vehicle, missed the deadline. Unable to work or claim benefits, he relied on support from Veterans’ Aid until winning temporary leave to remain this year.
In further cases, even ex-soldiers who apply on time are kept waiting in poverty, unable to work or get welfare, until their applications are decided – a process which can take years.
More than 7,000 foreign and Commonwealth soldiers serve in the Army, which has actively sought them and could not manage without them. At least 45 have been killed on active service since 2003, including seven so far this year alone.
Dr Milroy said Veterans’ Aid had seen 100 Commonwealth soldiers, including a number who the charity was having to put up in hostels because they were homeless and destitute.
L/Cpl Balewai, 32, said: “I feel really betrayed and angry at the fact that after 13 years of service I am just a number to the Home Office, in the queue behind Abu Hamza and his cronies”


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