Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Gurkhas 'in need after coming to the UK with nothing'

Report by Angus Crawford
BBC News Tuesday, 5 January 2010
Military charities say they have "grave concerns" about their ability to cope with the number of former Gurkhas coming to them for assistance.

Last year those who retired before 1997 won permission to settle in the UK - and up to 12,000 may do so by 2013.

But welfare groups say some are arriving from Nepal with no money and nowhere to live, and need their help.

The Ministry of Defence says it offers advice on housing and jobs, and help to any who fall through the "safety net".

According to the Army Benevolent Fund, up to 12,000 Gurkhas may apply for UK residency over the next three years.

'Two suitcases'

It estimates that new arrivals will need about £2,000 per household to set themselves up with accommodation, basic furniture, and appliances.

Director of Welfare Paul Cummings told the BBC that in the two-week period before Christmas, 12 families came to the charity for help.

"They will arrive from an aircraft, they'll probably have two suitcases and no more," he said.

"They're going to need everything to set up home."

Mr Cummings praised the MoD for setting up a resettlement office in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, which is designed to brief applicants about the reality of life in Britain.

But he explained that the people he has seen simply have not been there.

"Having not been through any preparation in Nepal prior to arrival, they're coming here with no resources to back them up and no means of sustaining themselves," he said.

"It is an issue of grave concern."

Loan to resettle

Until last year, Gurkhas who retired before 1997 didn't qualify to settle in the UK.

But campaigners, including the actress Joanna Lumley, took their case to court and enlisted high profile supporters to persuade the government to change its policy.

Finally, in May, it was announced that all Gurkhas who retired before 1997 and had completed more than four years service could apply to live in the UK.

One of those is Unmansingh Gurung, who is 64 and served with the brigade in the 1960s.

He arrived in the UK in October last year having taken out an £1,800 loan to pay for a visa and flights.

He has yet to receive any benefits and went to the Army Benevolent Fund for help - they have given him £800 for food and rent.

"I was a farmer in Nepal, it was hard, I didn't have enough money," he said.

"I feel very bad to be separated from my family, but it's the only choice."

He explained that he hoped to collect money from his benefits and send it back to Nepal, then maybe bring his wife and two children over eventually.

He would like to work, but speaks little English and has yet to find a job.

Financial burden

Dr Hugh Milroy is chief executive of Veterans Aid, the UK's leading charity dealing with former members of the forces who become homeless.

He remembers one Gurkha he met in the street outside his office in central London.

"He literally hadn't eaten. He'd been in the country five days and he was struggling already."

That case was time-consuming and complex - but Dr Milroy's greatest concern is for families trying to find somewhere to live.

"There are no houses and even if we've put them in a house, it's about your physical, psychological and financial ability to sustain that house."

Dr Milroy said military charities were helping the Gurkhas and would continue to do so in the future.

"We cope well on a national basis, but this has the potential to be overwhelming and that is very worrying," he added.

Mr Cummings also said the Army Benevolent Fund was coping at the moment, but if the projected 12,000 do apply, the financial burden could become excessive.

"If you provided £2,000 pounds to help each family that arrived, you're talking about a total of £24 million.

"What we need to try and make sure is that people are making the decision to come to the UK knowing what they will face when they get here."

The MoD said that more than 2,000 people had attended its settlement office in Nepal since it opened three months ago.

It added: "By working closely with other government departments, we have also put fast-tracking arrangements in place to ensure that ex-Gurkhas arriving in the UK receive all the support and benefits that the welfare system offers."



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