Bureaucratic errors that have left eight Fiji born soldiers, who served with the British army in Iraq and Afghanistan, as illegal immigrants in the country they once served, have gone to the high court to try to overturn the situation.
Remesio Waqaliva, aged 42 was suddenly discharged from the army in 2009 after nine years, including two tours of Iraq, and was not advised that he had to immediately apply for the UK citizenship to which he was legally entitled.
Waqaliva who is married with four children, subsequently discovered that he was unable to work and had to rely on handouts to survive. Without any income he has therefore been unable to save up the £2,389 plus lawyers fees for a visa.
He didn’t have any time to prepare and wasn’t told that his visa would expire when he left the army. Once he realised this he just didn’t have the money.
The British army recruits actively from Fiji. Recruits from the Pacific nations currently number about 1,300 and they are often noted for their commitment and bravery. Those who serve more than four years without a serious blemish are entitled to live and work in the UK, but most of the veterans had assumed the process was automatic and have struggled with the paperwork as well as the fees involved.
They have therefore found themselves unable to resolve their immigration status. Some returned to their native country but a group has come together to seek a judicial review of the handling of their cases in a crowdfunded action.
Also included in the group is Taitusi Ratucaucau who is currently recovering from a brain tumour that could cost him £50,000 if he loses his case.
Waqaliva was discharged after he had nearly completed a short period at the army correction centre in Colchester, because he had overstayed his leave. He said that he had family problems that he was trying to fix and thought having served his penalty that he would be the end of the matter. Waqaliva was surprised therefore to discover he was told to leave the army with one week’s notice. Family friends said the only money he was given was for a train ticket from Colchester to Wales where his family were.
The veteran served with the 20th Armoured Brigade and undertook tours of Iraq in 2006 and again just before he was discharged. The first tour was particularly dangerous, every day when out of the camp you wouldn’t know if you would come back alive.
Waqaliva said he hoped the legal hearing would help get his immigration status resolved, the first thing is to get a visa that would put everything to rest, the stress and the worry.
Ministers have allowed several hundred Afghan interpreters who worked with the British in Helmand Province to relocate to the UK. The scheme initially allowed 450 but was recently expanded to allow in a further 100 at risk of reprisals from the Taliban.
A government spokesperson said: The Home Office and Ministry of Defence work closely with our foreign and Commonwealth recruits to make sure they are fully aware of how they and their families can settle in the UK and the costs involved”.