Fiji soldiers in British Army win citizenship fight | Pacific Beat

Fiji soldiers in British Army win citizenship fight

Fiji soldiers in British Army win citizenship fight

Updated 23 November 2012, 18:25 AEST

Fijian and other Commonwealth soldiers in the British Army have won a legal battle over their citizenship rights.

Rules barring them from settling in the UK if they incur even minor disciplinary convictions are to be relaxed.

The move follows a high profile campaign by former senior military figures who have accused the Government of letting down personnel who have served Britain loyally in war zones around the world.

One man. Fijian lance corporal Bale Balewai, was told he would have to leave Britain because of a disciplinary infraction, despite having a British wife and 13 years service, including a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Dr Hugh Milroy, the Chief Executive of forces charity Veterans Aid tells Bruce Hill it's a great victory for Fijian and other Commonwealth soldiers, and also for common sense.

Presenter:Bruce Hill

Speaker:Dr Hugh Milroy, the Chief Executive of the UK forces charity Veterans Aid

MILROY: Corporal Balewai and his wife obviously fought very hard. They went to appeal on their particular case with the army and the case was basically overturned, thrown out, which means in essence, that there is no longer a bar to hit settlements. So I think that means that it will just actually go through now and they will be able to get on with their lives. But they've gone through four years of hell.

HILL: Well, that's one case, what about the general situation of the Commonwealth soldiers, including many from Fiji in the UK Army. There have been quite a few cases of people in this situation being denied citizenship on reasonably trivial grounds?

MILROY: Well, very trivial grounds in some cases. In some cases, they've found they've actually done nothing wrong. So where we are with that is the UK Board of Agency has in essence, come up with a new way for service families and the service personnel, for example, the Fijians, they go through a process is making sure that minor transgressions are not read across into the police national computer which means that the Board of Agency would then pick them up and they should, I think, for the vast bulk of them, should be able to get through the system. But I have real concerns for those that have come out of this system. They're no longer in the forces. They're hiding in the UK and so I think we do have some real problems. I think the other thing that really stands out here is that's fine, even if they've made this change and applaud the government for doing this, because it's an amazing U turn, but we've still got the issue of how much it costs to live here when you're going through the process, so we've got to make sure that these people that are applicants do have the right to work and they do have the right to access benefits.

HILL: The British Army recruits heavily from the Commonwealth, and especially places like Fiji. They come out there every year. There's a long tradition of Fijians serving in the British Army and then taking up British citizenship. Have these cases of Corporal Balewai and the others, has this affected recruiting or might it affect recruiting in the future?

MILROY: Well I've been no doubt in my mind that it may well affect recruiting in the future, but what we can see now is the Fijian Government, and in particular, has been very, very involved with myself and they've really gone to town to try and support their citizens here and I met with recently with the High Commissioner in London, together with the Immigration Minister, whose also the Defence Minister.

The Fijian Government has taken a great interest in this and Mr Sulvamara, High Commissioner here has been hugely supportive of the work we've been doing, putting pressure on the Foreign office, all sorts of things. It's been a team effort, but the Fijian Government has really pushed the boat out here to try and support the people.

HILL: The real question I suppose is why did something this apparently silly happen in the first place, and can we be sure that some that some of this won't happen again in the future?

MILROY: Well, we're effectively on the case now, we're watching for it. But what really concerns me about this is it was a series of errors and government policies that noone ever thought we'd work together. It's amazing. They never thought that they'd be this perfect storm and all of a sudden there was. Hopefully, because this is such a momentous move on the part of the Board of the Agency and the fact that everyone's watching, and particularly media, particularly the politicians. I don't think it can happen again.

HILL: I suppose there might be some people in Fiji, look superficially at this case and say, oh, it's just British people don't want Fijians, ex-Fijian soldiers living in their country, they just don't like people from overseas. But that appears not really to be the case based on the reaction from the British public?

MILROY: No, well I commute into London everyday from the West country and people have stopped me and said, well done. I think there is in Britain, I think there are 50 nationalities in the British Army or something and there is an idea that there should be a idea of fair play involved and I think there's a very strong sense of fair play and people really, really thought there was no fair play here.

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Bruce Hill

Bruce Hill

Presenter

Bruce is one of the Pacific’s most experienced journalists with nearly 20 years covering the region and has won several international awards.

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