Gurkhas sue for right to stay in Britain, mount protest outside London's High Court
By RAPHAEL G. SATTER
Associated Press Writer
10:56 AM PDT, September 16, 2008
LONDON (AP) _ Gurkha soldiers challenged the British government Tuesday over what they charge are unfair restrictions on their right to remain in the country for which they risked their lives.
The Nepalese soldiers, who have served with the British Army since the early 19th century, are suing to be allowed to settle in Britain.
Currently only those who retired after 1997, when the Gurkhas' base was moved from Hong Kong to southeast England, are automatically granted the right to stay. The government has argued that some of those who retired before 1997 have only weak links to Britain and must have their cases reviewed individually.
Speaking before London's High Court, the Gurkhas' lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, said the settlement restrictions ignore “the special debt this country owes to all Gurkhas, past and present, whatever their brigade's location, and whatever their date of discharge.”
“Their long and dedicated service links them inextricably to the people of this country and creates a debt of gratitude and honor. What matters is the fact of service, not the location of service,” Fitzgerald said.
Outside the court, hundreds of supporters gathered bearing signs and playing bagpipes. Television star Joanna Lumley, the star of “Absolutely Fabulous,” joined the demonstrators in a show of support for Gurkha veterans.
“I want to see justice done,” she told Lachhiman Gurung, 91, and Tul Bahadur Pun, 86, who served with her father in Burma, also known as Myanmar, during World War II.
About 12,000 foreign and Commonwealth personnel serve in Britain's armed forces. Some units, such as the Royal Irish Regiment and the Royal Gurkha Rifles, have histories that stretch back to the days of the British Empire.
Britain's Home Office, which manages the country's immigration, said soldiers from Commonwealth countries are allowed to settle in Britain after four years of service but only if the time was spent in the country.
The Gurkhas are also engaged in a separate legal battle over equal pension rights: Gurkhas who retired before 1997 receive only a quarter what is paid to those who retired after that time.