30 Jul 2012

Fijian-born soldier given leave to remain in UK

A Foreign and Commonwealth soldier in the British Army who Channel 4 News revealed was facing deportation is given discretionary leave to remain in the UK.

Lance Corporal Isimeli “Bale” Baleiwai was facing deportation on 9 August because of a disciplinary offence against his military record. Unbeknown to him, the offence equated to a criminal offence under an amendment last year to immigration law.

The Fijian, who served for the British Army for 13 years and risked his life in five operational tours to Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, was involved in an altercation with another soldier. His Commanding Officer dealt with the issue in a summary hearing. There was no jury, no defence, and no witnesses.

L Cp Baleiwai accepted a £1,000 fine and thought the issue was closed. It was not.

No status

When he voluntarily discharged from the Army to spend more time with his family, British wife Kim and his two British children, he was told he had “no status” by the UK Border Agency. He was given 28 days to leave the country.

Last week he has been told that he can appeal against the offence, but this time with the military equivalent of a jury and witnesses.

A UK Border Agency spokesperson told Channel 4 News: “We will make a decision on what further action to take once Mr Baleiwai’s appeal against his conviction has been resolved. Meanwhile, he has been granted discretionary leave to remain in the UK.

“Applications for citizenship from former members of our Armed Forces are considered in the same way as any other citizenship application, taking account of a range of factors, including unspent convictions.”

If he does clear his name, that “unspent conviction” will no longer exist and he may finally get to remain in Britain indefinitely.

‘Kick in the teeth’

L Cpl Baleiwai told Channel 4 News: “Although relieved I will not be deported away from my family, I have no rights, feel completely betrayed, worse off than a terrorist.

“My wife now has to support me and the kids which is the final kick in the teeth. Not only has my service been dishonoured but my right to provide and care for my family has been taken away from me.

“This is an insult. Is the Home Office going to label all soldiers criminal? They are a fascist incompetent organisation.”

Last week Channel 4 News uncovered at least 15 cases where troops from Foreign and Commonwealth (F&C) countries have been refused British citizenship following their discharge from service. With this they lost their rights to work, to benefits and healthcare.

F&C 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.

‘Tip of the iceberg’

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.

The former Head of the British Army General Sir Mike Jackson told Channel 4 News he thought the F&C soldiers were being dealt with “harshly” and said their service should be counted as “a big plus” when British citizenship is decided.

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.

Of these some 2,200 are Fijian, like L Cpl Baleiwai. His case is “just the tip of the iceberg”, according to Veterans Aid, a frontline charity which has provided pro bono advocacy for these soldiers. The charity claims it has seen at least 100 such cases over the last year.