Exclusive: The former head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, tells Channel 4 News that service by Commonwealth soldiers in the armed forces should count towards British citizenship.
Channel 4 News revealed on Sunday that former Foreign and Commonwealth (F&S) soldier, Fijian, Lance Corporal Isimeli “Bale” Baleiwai had been refused British citizenship after voluntarily leaving the Army and is due to be deported on the 9 August.
Under current rules Foreign and Commonwealth troops can claim British citizenship after four years of military service. But a new law, which appears to be increasingly used against foreign soldiers who have been disciplined at commanding officer level, is leaving them without basic rights or status.
Foreign and Commonwealth soldiers who are dealt with summarily for minor charges while serving are finding that when they leave the Armed Forces those misdemeanours are being treated as civil crimes. Having a criminal record then precludes them from getting citizenship or legal right to remain in the UK. Once identified as “illegals” they become subject to deportation.
They sent me back while my scars were still open. I was in the Army you know, so whatever they say, you will follow. I don’t really complain a lot. I just do it. Private Epeli ‘Pex’ Uluilakeba
Former Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson told Channel 4 News on Thursday: “It seems very harsh to deny a soldier who has given that service to this country, to deny him the opportunity of settling here if that’s what he wishes.
“If it’s just about a relatively minor offence committed as a young man, in my view there should be discretion here.”
Channel 4 News has uncovered at least 15 cases where troops from Fiji, Jamaica and other Commonwealth nations have been refused British citizenship following their discharge from service; lost all rights to work, healthcare and benefits; and been labelled “not of good character” by the UK Border Agency.
“These Commonwealth soldiers serve this country, and do it extremely well,” said Sir Mike. “That service, taking the risk if need be of death itself, and giving this country the benefit of their service has to be taken into account as a very big plus point.”
A UK Border Agency spokesperson told Channel 4 News: “Applications for settlement from former HM Forces personnel are considered in the same way as all other applications for settlement. This involves consideration of a range of factors including unspent convictions, whether passed by military courts or resulting from police involvement.”
Read more: Should disciplined Foreign and Commonwealth soldiers be deported?
One Fijian, Private Epeli ‘Pex’ Uluilakeba [pictured left], served two tours in Iraq between 2004-05 and 2006-7 for 1st Battalion Staffordshire Regiment (now 3 Mercian). On his first tour he survived an IED attack which killed three of his close friends. He told Channel 4 News that day changed his life forever.
“We were on patrol and got stopped. The next thing I know we got blown up,” he said. “I’m waiting for the Lynx aircraft to come and lift me up. I tried to give first aid to my mate. I couldn’t cry but I wanted to. The guy beside me died and he gave me three breaths and died – my patrol commander died on that spot and my driver.”
Within months he was sent back to Iraq, still with shrapnel in his bottom and legs. “They sent me back while my scars were still open. I was in the Army you know, so whatever they say, you will follow. I don’t really complain a lot. I just do it,” he said.
After “just doing it” in two tours of service, surviving two IED attacks and constant bombardment in his second tour defending Basra Palace, Pte Uluilakeba was suffering from psychological trauma. On his return to the UK he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but received no treatment. His anger led to drink and one day in barracks during a fire drill he threatened a corporal with a butter knife. In 2009 he was court-martialled for the incident and was discharged from the Army.
After paying £820 to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) as a British citizen, he was denied by the Border Agency (UKBA) on the grounds that he had been court-martialled. For six months he was without status or rights. He could not work, could not claim benefits and he was reduced to picking shrapnel out of his own leg himself because he didn’t have the right to see a doctor.
These Commonwealth soldiers serve this country, and do it extremely well. That service, taking the risk if need be of death itself and giving this country the benefit of their service has to be taken into account as a very big plus point. General Sir Mike Jackson
“The shrapnel was still in my legs and I couldn’t walk for long enough,” he said. “Sitting down for more then 30 minutes I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see the doctors at all. No GP, no nothing at all. Sometimes I’d pull out the shrapnel on my own. Just pull it up and use pain killers to help the muscle heal. I had to pull it out despite all the pain.
“I feel betrayed you know. Serving in the British Army, serving for the Queen and this country and when you come out and the green kit is off from you, they wash their hands of you.”
Through the kindness of bereaved mother, who had lost her son in a Land Rover accident in Germany, he was able to meet the £500 bill to appeal UKBA’s decision and won. He has been given the discretionary leave to remain (DLR) for three years. But in 2014, he will have to pay again to reapply for another three years of DLR.
If he is not deported and that is successful, he will then have the opportunity to apply for ILR and secure a British passport.
Jamaican Kaedon White [pictured right] left the Army in 2009 and after spending a year as a civilian worker, was informed he had “no status” in the UK. He has been fighting deportation for 18 months. In that time he has been unable to work, claim benefits or see a doctor.
He told Channel 4 News: “I was totally confused because not only am I out of a job, I’m out of pocket, I’ve got three children to maintain and I didn’t know how I was going to do that.”
Again he was told that he had a conviction for two different disciplinary offences which occurred during service. He said: “For me as a young trooper in the Army, because my partner wasn’t around…she was in Jamaica stranded where there was a hurricane at the time. I didn’t report to work because I had my child to look after. Then I found out that I was posted AWOL (Absent Without Leave) and that’s my charge.
“They even put theft on my record after finding kit that I’d been issued with at my house. However the civilian police thought that it was no crime and there was no further action. But the Army decided that I shouldn’t have had that stuff at my house, so they charged me for it.”
Disgusted with the way he has been treated Mr White called for the government to review the law. He said: “It’s not even fair on soldiers, because stuff that you’ll get charged for in the army, as a civilian it won’t affect you and it won’t be a criminal record. I think this law needs to be addressed.
He was recently given two years leave to remain, which he is thankful for, but he says he feels betrayed. “They accept every nationality. You sign up to serve and protect your Queen and country,” he said. “You do your job and at the end of it you start hearing another story. I don’t think that’s fair on anyone. If you don’t want us in your country, don’t accept us in your Army.”