Retired Gurkha soldiers sometimes have a hard time settling in Britain | South China Morning Post
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  • Jan 27, 2015
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Retired Gurkha soldiers sometimes have a hard time settling in Britain

Nepalese ex-soldiers allowed to settle in Britain struggle with unfamiliar language and system

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 November, 2013, 7:19am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 November, 2013, 7:19am
 

Retired captain Birbahadur Thapa served in the British army for 28 years as part of the Brigade of Gurkhas, the fighting force recruited in Nepal whose kukri-wielding soldiers have long been famed as fearsome warriors.

Now he leads a less glamorous life in the run-down southern English town of Farnborough.

Thapa, 72, is one of a number of ex-Gurkhas who were able to move to England after 2009, following a campaign spearheaded by actress Joanna Lumley to give all members of the brigade with at least four years service the right to settle in Britain.

But almost five years after the event, many elderly retired Gurkhas find themselves struggling to adapt.

"Our people, who have come here to settle, especially old people, they haven't got any relatives, they haven't got anybody. Life is so tough for them," Thapa said.

An estimated 10,000 ex-Gurkha heads of family live in Britain. But though they have been part of the British army, many older ex-Gurkhas do not speak good English.

"The elderly people who come here in particular find it very difficult to integrate because they don't speak the language, they don't understand the system," said William Shuttlewood, director of the Gurkha Welfare Trust charity.

After a series of 24-hour fasts by demonstrators calling for improvements to their pensions and other benefits, protest organiser Gyanraj Rai last Thursday began an all-out hunger strike to push for their demands, which start with pension payments for Gurkha soldiers equal to those of their counterparts in other parts of the British army.

Currently, many Gurkhas draw pensions tied to the cost of living in Nepal. Others only see around a third of their service prior to 1997 counted as pensionable, meaning they also receive lower monthly pay-outs than British equivalents.

But the Ministry of Defence said the Gurkhas' pension arrangements were fair, having withstood three judicial reviews over the last decade, and that Gurkhas qualified for pensions at an earlier age than their British counterparts.

For the younger ex-Gurkhas, adapting is not nearly so much of a challenge. Many speak good English, and are able to start businesses or find jobs, frequently as private security guards.

Muchhetra Gurung, a 49-year-old who served with the Gurkhas for 17 years before retiring in 1999, is the director of a travel agent in Aldershot, an old army town where many of the veterans have settled. "We know the system, we have no problem here," he said.

Life is different for the elderly, he said, many of whom would rather go back to Nepal if they had better pensions, which would afford them a good quality of life there.

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