Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Absolutely Faboulous: for everyone but the Gurkhas

So Saint Joanna got her apology.

After charities told some unwanted home truths which were followed up by Sue Reid in the Daily Mail, politicians decided to actually have a look at what was happening to pre 1997 Gurkhas coming to this country following the ruling last summer.

It's a pity that they didn't bother to listen to anyone who actually knew what they were talking about when they voted in the House of Commons, but then they're MPs and quick, easy headlines are so much more important to them than voting with knowledge, even if that's unpopular with the voters who only have media headlines to go by.

At the press conference yesterday Sue Reid, the journalist who decided to find out what actually was going on with those men who served with the British Army by speaking to charities funding Joanna's Gurkhas and by going to Nepal where she almost had a serious accident involving a steep staircase, was ignored. She knew too much. She'd found out what was happening and who was making money.

Mr Gurung was excited. He envisaged a happy retirement in England, with free housing from a local council and a decent state pension.
Today those dreams are shattered. Penniless, he has spent months stranded in a mildewed attic room above an empty shop in Aldershot, Hampshire.
He speaks no English, so his chances of work are next to nil. He can barely read or write in Nepalese. Yet he took out an unaffordable loan and sold everything (his family house, farmland, cows and goats) to raise the money to get here. Now deep in debt, he could not afford a flight home even if he wanted to.

Meanwhile, in Nepal, his wife Laxmi, 56, son Sunil, 26, and daughter Phul, 16, face an equally uncertain future. They have no money to fly to Britain or to pay for the three UK visas they need to settle here.

This, Press Gazette, was the story of the year. But it was too inconvenient for people to sit up and take note. Shame on you for living your life by what is easy to explain to the masses, rather than what is right.

The woman had awkward questions to ask based on fact. She knew too much. She knew beyond old men with heroic decorations. She knew that charities would be left with a bill of tens, if not hundreds of thousands and that the press would not highlight this fact and the public, feeling they had done their bit by supporting their residency, had done enough. She knew that this is only the beginning.

She knew the truth of families separated and in unimaginable debt because of lies told to them by organisations making money from their ignorance.
n a further conundrum, this investigation has discovered that the old soldiers' 'trades union', the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen's Organisation (GAESO) in Nepal, is charging each veteran £500 in cash for UK visa advice while weaving rosy tales about life here, which is ramping up the numbers setting off.
At GAESO's Nepal offices, solicitors from a top firm of London human rights lawyers, Howe & Co, also receive a legal aid fee of up to £500 from the British Government for each old soldier and each family member they help fill in a UK visa application.
It is proving a gold mine for all concerned - apart from the Gurkhas themselves. For the old soldiers have been betrayed a second time.

I'm no fan of any particular government department but there's an office in Nepal which offers free advice to any ex Gurkha now eligible to reside in this country. And they don't charge poor men who sell up their farms £500 to get through the door with the promise of a live of milk and honey when they arrive in the UK. But we all know what Gordon Brown thinks of the MoD.

Joanna Lumley had an opportunity to speak out and tell Gurkhas that they needn't burden themselves with extra debt by going through the Pokhara office of GAESO, the Gurkha ex-Service organisation.

I don't think she understood that when they arrived here that they'd face the struggles they do. But to maintain silence on such a vital issue when there are charities who fund all soldiers and ex-soldiers who need money and can't afford to bail out Joanna's unintended consequences then she has a duty.

Kevan Jones, I know there's an election coming up but you were on the right lines when you spoke of your frustration because you spoke for so many who were ignored and so many who couldn't speak out. It's not about immigration rules it's about the realisty of life in Britain. Gordon Brown: nothing you do surprises me anymore. Your ignorance is a beacon for other foolish folk who wish to obtain high office.

So what's better for an ex-Gurkha? To live on a decent wage in Nepal and be the hub of a community or for an elderly man to be separated from his family based on false hopes and debts which can never be repaid over an issue which can never be spoken about because of the ignorance of a woman who meant well but didn't listen and MPs who were more interested in themselves than those who served this country.

If I were an ex-Gurkha, I would stay in Nepal. But mostly I'd want to get the right information and thanks to yesterday and the refusal of Ms Lumley to use her power to encourage the resettlement office and MPs to stick to their convictions no matter what the masses might think, that justice will not be corrected.

Gurkha Justice now leaves ashes in the mouths of those who speak it.

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