24 Sep 2012

F&C soldier could face prison if deported

Exclusive: a serving soldier with British armed forces, who is under threat of deportation, tells Channel 4 News that if he is sent back to his homeland he could be imprisoned for being a mercenary.

The soldier, whose identity had to remain anonymous and who we have named “Andrew”, told Channel 4 News he wanted to leave the army but is now reconsidering that decision because the consequences could be far worse than serving another tour in Afghanistan.

Andrew said: “Going home it’s just one of those things. Inevitable. They’ll hunt me down as a mercenary by the time I get back. I’ll probably get arrested, no trial, just a kangaroo court. Locked up and forgotten about.

“So you could probably think of it like being captured by the Taliban and trying to deal with that kind of situation – that would probably be the same thing that would happen if you’re in my country. I’ve heard what the prisons are like and they’re not pretty at all. They’re not pretty.”

Small fine

Andrew was given a small fine some years ago for a non-custodial offence. He thought once the fine had been paid, that would be the end of the issue, but it was not. When applying for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, the Home Office wrote him a letter telling him his conviction would prevent him from being accepted as a British citizen.

Andrew said: “I was gutted, definitely gutted. I just couldn’t believe that after spending so much time in the army thinking that my reward would actually to become a citizen and carry on with my life, but it was just a ploy. There’s nothing going on.

“So I just think that I’ve wasted all of my time serving the army, serving the British public, serving the United Kingdom for nothing.”

A Home Office spokesman told Channel 4 News: “We are reviewing the criteria for granting settlement rights including how criminal convictions and sentences imposed under military law affect immigration and nationality decisions.”

Home Office help

The former head of the British Army, General Lord Richard Dannatt, told Channel 4 News (see below) he will offer help to the Home Office to deal with the F&C soldier deportation issue.

He said: “It’s not right. There are a number of people who are concerned about this and pressure is mounting for the regulations to be looked at. If they (Home Office) would like any help from me on this, I’m very willing to give them my telephone number.

“Minor traffic offences, minor military offences, which are important in themselves to maintain good order and military discipline, should not in themselves be sufficient grounds for the Home Office to deny someone the right to stay here.

“If they have been decent enough and we’ve needed them to come and fight in our ranks and share the risks and rigour of the battlefield with us, then we should go that extra mile and see if we possibly can allow them to stay here.”

Andrew stressed he and the other F&C soldiers do need that help because he has been left in a “no-win situation”, because if he stays in the army he may have to serve another tour in Afghanistan, but if he leaves the army and gets deported he will be a convict.

He said: “On both sides I’m actually a disposable soldier for the British army and I’m disposable for my country.

“It puts you in a like sort of double jeopardy really, because I’ve done my time, I’d like to leave, I’d like to carry on and move on with my life, but I can’t go anywhere until I’ve actually cleared my conviction which is five years from the police, before I can actually apply for my citizenship and that’s not even guaranteed.

“I could be turned away after spending another 800 and something pounds, non-refundable as well, just to say ‘Oh, sorry – you’ve been refused again’.”

Military covenant

There are currently 8,505 F&C soldiers serving in the British forces, not including the 3,880 Gurkhas who previously won the right to residency.

Dr Hugh Milroy from the charity which has supported many of these former troops, Veterans Aid, told Channel 4 News this latest case is further evidence the Military Covenant is not worth the paper it’s written on.

He said: “It really is meaningless as far as these people are concerned. If its not for these families who are struggling then who is it for? I really think this is one of the most fundamental issues regarding the Covenant and I think the government and the Prime Minister must address it.”

During the summer Channel 4 News revealed on that former Foreign & Commonwealth soldier, Fijian, Lance Corporal Isimeli “Bale” Baleiwai, had been refused British citizenship after voluntarily leaving the army.

Under current rules Foreign & 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.

Bale Baleiwai had been disciplined by his commanding officer for being involved in a fight with another soldier. His military offence equated to a criminal conviction in civilian life. The prevented him from securing British citizenship and because he was classed as an “illegal” he became subject to deportation.

Since the Channel 4 News report, Baleiwai has been given discretionary leave to remain for six months while he awaits a military appeal hearing in November with a full jury. He has recently started a new, but temporary job.