Leaving ex-British Gurkhas to cost Nepal dearly

Kathmandu, October 5 :

The Gurkhas might have won a longstanding battle for equal rights with their British counterparts as the UK government permits the Indefinite Leave to Entry (ILE) to post-1997 retirees, but it is likely to cost Nepal dearly.

Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) records show that British Gurkha pensioners brought in Rs 5.26 billion during fiscal year 2004-05 as remittances. During the first seven months of the current fiscal ye-ar, this figure stands at Rs 3.22 billion. Now with the application of ILE, Nepal stands to lose this significant am-ount of foreign excha-nge earnings, as most retirees are likely to opt to stay in the UK.

ILE applies to a Gurkha soldier who has retired after July 1, 1997 after completing four years of service in the British army, making him eligible to live and work in UK. Following the ILE, one can obtain the citizenship of UK after five consecutive years of stay. Thus, it is unlikely that anyone who opts for ILE would return to Nepal.

“Many former Gurkhas working abroad in reputed companies are returning home to apply for ILE. Quite a few post-1997 retirees living in the country are also queuing up,” said Mahendralal Rai, secretary, Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organisation (GAESO).

Keshav Prasad Acharya, executive director at NRB research department, agreed that it would be a loss to the country’s economy if all the ILE-eligible Gurkhas migrated to the UK, permanently. “There are quite a few areas in which they have made productive investment. Their income contributes to the national economy in one way or the other,” he said. “Who wants to stay here? Even if I don’t get an IRL, I prefer to go somewhere else,” said an ex-Gurkha who requested not to be named.

Acharya doesn’t blame them. “The state could do nothing to dissuade the Diaspora which has been a substantial economic loss for the country,” he added. Given the ex-Gurkhas’ desire for ILE, there might remain no British pensioners in the country once the British government grants the permit to all the Gurkhas. “If that happens, a huge loss in terms of remittance for the country is inevitable,” Acharya said.

According to United British Gurkhas Ex-Servicemen’s Association Nepal (UBGEAN), abo-ut 1,500 (95 per cent) post-1997 retirees are already living in the UK, after acquiring Indefinite Leave to Remain permit. Around 3,000 Gurkhas living there had retired before 1997.

The statement issued recently by British Gurkha Welfare Society supports UBGEAN’s figures that claimed to have cleared 728 applications from Gurkha soldiers who have retired before 1997. An unofficial record puts the number of Gurkhas living in the UK at around 5,000.

The number of retirees since 1997 is estimated to be 1,800, while the total number of pensioners is 26,000. The number of those still under active service remains 3,500. The Gurkhas have served the British Crown for 196 years, sacrificing an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 lives in various battles. According to the British Gurkha soldiers, only this permit would compensate for a century of sacrifice.