Pension deal key to Nepalese immigration levelsBy Pete Castle
February 11, 2011
THE area’s largest Gurkha welfare association has warned that the current level of Nepalese immigration to Aldershot and Farnborough is “only the tip of the iceberg”.
Another wave of elderly immigrants are poised to move to the area unless the government agrees to pay retired Gurkhas higher pensions, according to leaders of the British Gurkha Welfare Society, which has its main offices in Farnborough.
There are 36,000 former Gurkhas who, including their immediate family members, could number more than 100,000 Nepalese citizens that are now eligible to move to the UK.
The society warned that many Ghurkas are pinning their hopes on an improved pension deal from the UK government to improve their quality of life in Nepal.
If not, thousands more would see their only choice being to make the trip from Nepal – the 14th poorest country in the world – to Britain.
The comments, by the society’s chairman, retired Gurkha officer Major Tikendra Dewan, come after the area’s MP Gerald Howarth secured a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the issue this week.
Mr Howarth said the huge influx was in danger of overwhelming health, housing and schools services, adding that people in the two towns could not tolerate such a “massive and rapid” change.
The Tory MP’s intervention has led to an enormous outpouring of comments over Nepalese immigration. Some opposition politicians have criticised the Conservatives for helping to fuel intolerance towards the area’s new arrivals.
Mr Dewan said the response to Mr Howarth showed there were mixed feelings about the level of immigration to the area.
However, he said he believed the Gurkhas had shared a “unique bond of friendship” with the British that dated back almost 200 years. It meant the area’s latest immigrants had the utmost respect for their host country.
This history of service meant the UK government has a “small price to pay for a long overdue debt”, Mr Dewan said.
He pointed out that while soldiers in the British Army from Commonwealth countries, such as Australia or Fiji, had long enjoyed the right to settle in the UK and equal pay and pensions, the same rights were still denied to former Gurkhas.
While settlement rights had now been granted to almost all former Gurkhas and their families, most would not wish to move to the UK if equal pensions were also being paid, Mr Dewan said.
“As the current pension arrangements do not provide for an adequate standard of living in Nepal, many veterans believe their only option is to move to the UK,” he said.
“They believe they will be well looked after in the UK and will be able to support both themselves and their families. The reality is that most Gurkhas arrive in the UK unable to speak enough English to secure a job.
“The state support they believed they would be given either does not materialise or is just not enough. They are then forced to live in poverty, often separated from their families but unable to afford to go back to Nepal.”
Mr Dewan said it made both “moral and economic sense” to provide Gurkha veterans with a pension that allows them to support themselves and their families in Nepal.
When such veterans arrived in the UK they were entitled not only to £9,000 of pension tax credits, but to other welfare benefits such as housing allowance, heating allowance and use of the NHS, he said.
The government’s own figures showed that while it would cost the UK taxpayer an extra £50 million to raise Gurkha pensions to an equal footing with their British colleagues, the settlement of all eligible Gurkhas and their families in the UK could cost up to £400m.
Around 21,000 Gurkha veterans who retired before 1997, or their widows, still received either no pension at all or a much lower pension in comparison to their fellow UK soldiers, Mr Dewan said.
This meant that many elderly retired soldiers were forced to come to the UK to improve their standard of living.
“Most Gurkha veterans would prefer to stay in Nepal with their families if they were able to support themselves there,” Mr Dewan said.
“There are thousands of ex-Gurkhas awaiting the outcome of the pension campaign before deciding to migrate to the UK if left with no choice.
“So what Mr Howarth worries about is only the tip of the iceberg.”
Mr Dewan added that his society had worked positively with a number of organisations, including the council, police, fire brigade and schools, to help prepare them for the expected influx before it happened.