Article by David McMullen
In times of conflict, Commonwealth countries and the Gurkhas have readily supported the UK in every war zone we’ve deployed, currently commonwealth soldiers make up 4,500 members of her majesty armed forces. They have been recruited and originate from commonwealth countries around the world. Countries such as Fiji, providing the highest number of recruits.
Today these Commonwealth veterans are being let down by the country they served and fought for.
A group of soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking legal action against the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence over an alleged systemic failure to assist them with complex, unaffordable immigration rules on discharge, leaving them classified as illegal immigrants, facing unemployment and homelessness and fearing deportation.
In the unprecedented group action taken against the two government departments, the group of Commonwealth-born veterans, each of whom served between seven and 12 years in the British army, say immigration difficulties have left them feeling betrayed by the country they served. Military charities say hundreds more are similarly affected.
These Commonwealth veterans are challenging the Ministry of Defence for failures to comply with its own guidance when discharging Foreign & Commonwealth HM Forces personnel from the Forces. They are also challenging the Home Office over the level of application fees for permanent residence applications, maintaining that these should be waived for Foreign & Commonwealth veterans and their families.
There have been countless and repeated failures by HM Forces’ to follow their own procedures which have led veterans like us being left without legal status in the UK after leaving the British armed forces.
MoD rules state that Commonwealth-born service personnel are eligible for indefinite leave to remain in the UK after discharge if they have served four years. But the claimants state that the army failed to inform them that they needed to make an immediate application to the Home Office for leave to remain in the UK on discharge, despite a clear MoD requirement that the process should be explained to all non-British veterans in the period before they leave the army.
Most assumed that after four years of service, the immigration process was automatic; the Home Office stamped their passports on joining the military with a note stating that they were exempt from immigration restrictions, and that they were “not subject to any condition or limitation on the period of permitted stay in the UK”. The stamps were not marked with an expiry date but nevertheless became invalid on discharge; veterans say they were not informed.
Repercussions on the scale of the Windrush scandal…
When they discovered, with the tightening of the Home Office’s “hostile environment” regulations after 2012, that they were in breach of immigration rules, they struggled to adapt themselves, mainly because of the cost of regularising their situation. Home Office visa application fees have risen sharply from £1,051 in 2015 to the current fee of £2,389. This means a service leaver and their partner with two children would have to pay nearly £10,000 to continue to live in the UK, an unaffordable sum for most on army pensions.
As a result of immigration problems, some lost their jobs, while others chose to live semi-clandestine lives, avoiding contact with the authorities, afraid that an immigration application could be rejected and they could be detained and removed from the UK. One family was visited at home by immigration officers. Some have been too scared to seek medical help, in case the NHS refers them to immigration enforcement. Others have chosen to return to their country of birth rather than risking detention, despite having the legal right to remain.
The failings by the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office have had serious implications for the veterans and their families. Combined with the hostile environment measures mainly introduced when Theresa May was Home Secretary and later PM, and continued and strengthened by the current government, many veterans now find themselves in financial difficulties or at the risk of being so. At a time when the UK is in a pandemic crisis, the veterans also live in fear of needing to access medical care which, despite serving in the UK Forces, they are currently not entitled to and cannot afford to pay for privately.
When one of the veterans, Taitusi Ratucaucau, was recently admitted into hospital for emergency major brain surgery, only to be presented with a bill for thousands of pounds, the unfairness rightly hit the headlines. Mr Ratucaucau was deemed ineligible for free NHS treatment, despite having served in the UK army for over 10 years, including on several operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Living in limbo, unable to afford permanent residence or healthcare has caused great emotional and psychological strain for these veterans and their families. Both the MoD and the Home Office have refused to accept responsibility for any of the issues raised and so Forces Online established Help The Commonwealth Veterans 8 (HTCV8) to raise awareness and funds to support the veterans’ legal claim.
The veterans and Forces Online are assisted by David McMullen, Campaign Coordinator. David has previously successfully campaigned on behalf of veterans with the Chennai 6 campaign and contacted the Commonwealth veterans’ legal team offering his help and time for free.
HTCV8 is calling on the UK not to forget the soldiers who came to the UK’s support when it needed them and to support the Commonwealth 8 now when they need our help.
Your support is needed
Article by David McMullen
Please help support our commonwealth veterans, David McMullen is raising both awareness and the funds to help commonwealth veterans, as well as lobbying parliament to raise these important issues. David is a 13yr Veteran having served in Afghan. He has since helped lots of veteran charities and is now a trustee of Force Online. David McMullen was also on the campaign team for the successful Free the Chennai6 Campaign the Six British former soldiers that were wrongfully arrested and imprisoned for four years, after intense pressure from the public and government they were released from prison. They were arrested and detained on weapons charges after their ship was boarded. The men were working on the anti-piracy ship MV Seaman Guard Ohio, owned by the US-based company AdvanFort, when they were arrested in 2013.