21 Nov 2012

Border Agency U-turn on deportation of FCO soldiers

The UK Border Agency plans to change the rules to allow foreign and Commonwealth soldiers who risked their lives for Britain to avoid deportation – even those with minor criminal convictions.

Some decorated soldiers who have risked their lives for Britain have been threatened with deportation at the end of their careers. But Channel 4 News has learned that the UK Border Agency is to push ahead with changes to those rules, bringing them before parliament on Thursday. If approved, the changes would allow soldiers leave to remain even if they had minor convictions.

The changes could come into force before Christmas, meaning soldiers expected to be made redundant in the New Year would not be affected.

High profile figures who have called for change include ex-Defence Secretary Liam Fox, Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy and two former Chiefs of the General Staff, Lord Dannatt and General Sir Mike Jackson.

‘Frustration’ and ‘betrayal’

In a separate development, Fijian-born solider Isimel ‘Bale’ Baleiwai has had his conviction for assault overturned. Bale served 13 years in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. He has an English wife and children.

Speaking exclusively to Channel 4 News today, he talked about the moment he heard he would be allowed to stay: “I had a mixture of feelings. I was pleased to know that I was found not guilty and I was frustrated as well about what this has put my family through over the past five months.”

“Initially I felt betrayed because of what I’ve given to serve Queen and country. Now I have faith that this value that we went out to other countries to protect and portray to other countries that this is a British value, we value fairness,” he said.

“Yesterday showed me that yes there is fairness in this country and that’s why I believe I was found not guilty, because of the merits of my case.”

How many others?

His wife, Kim, said her husband was made out to be a criminal without a fair trial, jury, or legal representation.

“I don’t think that should happen in Britain at all. I feel sad that we’ve had to fight so hard to prove that that process was not fair,” she said.

“If Bale’s been found not guilty I imagine there’s a lot of other soldiers that have been through that process that would also be found not guilty if they were given a fair trial.”

Mr Baleiwai added: “The only way is up now. We’ll be able to dream again about what to do with our future, rather than not knowing what the next minute brings, what other stuff they will try and stick us with, but yes it looks better now. I’m so happy and relieved.”