Gurkhas hand back medals in pension and citizenship protest

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Gurkhas hand back medals in pension and citizenship protest

Post by Guest on Thu 20 Mar 2008, 2:38 pm

Fifty retired Gurkha soldiers returned their cherished military medals today in protest at what they claim is second-class treatment by Whitehall (writes Nico Hines).

Nepalese Gurkhas have been part of the British Army for nearly 200 years, but they receive lower pensions than British soldiers and those who retired before 1997 have no automatic right to claim citizenship and remain in the UK.

Several hundred Gurkhas watched as Major Damar Ghale MBE handed back five military awards, as well as the honour that was bestowed upon him in the 2002 New Years Honours list.

Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, collected the medals from fifty Gurkha soldiers and promised to hand them to Gordon Brown.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Clegg held up one of the gongs and said: “Do you know what it means for a loyal British soldier to give up a medal that he won for his long years’ of service to this country.

“And can you explain to the Gurkhas why on earth you believe that Gurkhas who served in the Army after 1997 are worthy of British citizenship but those who served before that date should be deported?”

The Prime Minister replied that the current Government was the first to introduce equal pay for Gurkhas and a right to UK citizenship after four years in the Army. In 1997 the Gurkha headquarters was moved from Hong Kong to the UK, which prompted the change in rules.

“Let me also pay tribute to the Gurkhas,” Mr Brown said to MPs.

“They have been in existence since 1815. They have served loyally in every part of the world - particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they fought with Prince Harry over the last few months. They have done a tremendous job for our country.”

Gurkhas who retired before 1997 do not have the right to live permanently in the UK although many of them have served more than 25 years in the British Army and many have seen active combat.

The pension rights for Nepalese soldiers serving pre-1997 are also dramatically lower than more recent recruits.

Hundreds of Gurkhas, many dressed in blazers and green military hats, chanted and held banners demanding equal rights outside Parliament this morning.

Major Ghale, 50, of the Queens Gurkha Engineers, who served in the Gurkhas for 28 years, said: “It is very sad and emotional but I think it is the only thing we can do. I served in Kosovo and Bosnia where I was in charge of my troops.

“It is not a case of being angry but we feel very disappointed and let down.”

The protest comes a day after Lord Lee of Trafford, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, launched a backbench bid in the Lords to make it easier for retired Gurkha soldiers to settle in the UK.

The Immigration (Discharged Gurkhas) Bill, which gained a formal first reading, would “amend the immigration rules in connection with the requirements for indefinite leave to enter and remain in the UK as a Gurkha discharged from the British Army”.

Source: Timesonline - http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3583493.ece

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