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Lutfur Rahman

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We Need Fair Treatment for All Who Serve Our Country

Posted: 31/07/2012 16:36

It is not often that I agree with the Daily Telegraph, but I definitely share its indignation at the treatment meted out to Commonwealth citizens who have been refused UK citizenship after serving in our armed forces.

The newspaper recently cited the case of Lance-Corporal Bale Baleiwai, a Fijian,with 13 years in the Army decorated with four medals, who was even used as a posterboy for recruitment. But even though he has a British wife and children the government has refused him citizenship and the right to work while threatening him with deportation.

He is not alone. It seems the government is treating any discipline or minor misdemeanour as grounds for refusing Commonwealth veterans residence and a passport. I'm happy to associate myself with the growing protest against this ingratitude and injustice.

This week I will be meeting the troops who have come to Tower Hamlets to fill the gap left by the failure of private security contractors to express our borough's gratitude and to see how we can make their stay here more comfortable, so it is appropriate to raise the issue now.

Even the comedian and Eighth Army veteran, Spike Miligan, found himself stripped of nationality by immigration laws designed to keep out Commonwealth citizens. His crime had been to be born to generations of Irish serving abroad in the British Army. Both India, where he had been born in a British garrison, and Ireland offered him passports. So, despite his friendship with Prince Charles, this British icon and six year World war Two veteran had to become a citizen of Ireland - where he had never lived.

This ingratitude has to stop. Commonwealth countries lost 1.7 million fighting for our country in two world wars. From Australia, New Zealand, Canada, what is now India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, not to mention Africa and the West Indies they volunteered and gave their lives. We talk of our finest hour, but if it were not for the sacrifice of these thousands from overseas, including Ireland, Britain might well have lost.

In addition, I cannot forget that Tower Hamlets was the port through which tens of thousands of "Lascars," Bengalis, Somalis, Chinese, Yemenis and others immigrated to Britain after serving in the Merchant Navy. During World War Two one in three Merchant seamen, including the Lascars, died. Only last November I vetoed an attempt to use the memorial to them in our borough as a party spot for bankers wanting to have a party.

Sometimes we might disagree with the wars that politicians send our men and women to fight, but we are usually mature enough to realise the troops do not get to vote on their missions and we will support them for their sacrifice regardless.

Any look at most British regiments even now reflects the Commonwealth origins of many of the troops. As I visit our servicemen here in the East End, I will be adding my voice to those who are fighting for fair treatment for all who serve our country not least the right to live in the country they have been defending.

 
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