Fake Gurkhas are causing passport delays in Hong Kong, British director general says
Director general launches ‘urgent’ review as protesters outside consulate demand action
Britain’s passport office will “urgently” review the delays in granting passports to Gurkha descendants in Hong Kong, its director general said, saying the hold-ups were caused by people falsifying connections to the Gurkhas.
Mark Thomson made the announcement in a letter British consulate staff handed to about 100 Gurkha descendants who protested outside its compound on Tuesday.
“Her Majesty’s Passport Office cannot issue a passport until we are satisfied of any person’s eligibility for a passport, which I am sure that this group of proud British nationals fully understand,” he wrote in the letter, dated Monday.
“However, I recognise the frustration and upset for legitimate applicants who have been affected by the delays in processing their application due to impostors attempting to abuse the system.”
Thomson said it was “greatly unsettling” that applicants had falsified connections to the Gurkhas – Nepali soldiers who served in the British Army, and to whom the UK government granted citizenship – to fraudulently obtain British passports.
The director general said his office had been working with departments across the British government since last year to solve the delays, and had made substantial progress.
But he admitted the progress had not been sufficient. On Monday, Thomson said, he established a team to urgently review the passport applications.
Gurkha descendants awaiting their passports will be contacted by no later than May 15, the letter said.
“I am deeply sorry for the impact that not being issued a passport is having on legitimate applicants,” Thomson wrote.
Gurkhas in Hong Kong during the colonial period lived in army barracks, isolated from the rest of society, until they were thrust into the midst of an overwhelmingly Chinese community with the end of British rule in 1997.
At the rally on Tuesday, the protesters, mostly children or grandchildren of Gurkhas, complained that it usually took four years for them to receive their passports.
One of the protesters, Rai Sivakumar, 45, is the son of a Gurkha. Rai has already obtained a British passport and so can visit Britain any time he wants.
However, British authorities have still not granted his daughter, Rai Nichha, now 22 months old, a passport. The daughter does not hold any passport at the moment, and has been unable to travel outside Hong Kong.
“I really want to take my daughter to see my mother in the UK,” Rai said.
Other protesters described descendants without British passports as “prisoners in Hong Kong”.
They complained that British authorities asked them for too many documents, some of which they struggle to find, including marriage certificates of Gurkha family members and childhood photos.
Another protester, Shiva Kumar Chhetri, 51, said the passport applications for his two children had already taken two years.
“They are stateless at present,” he said.