When Commonwealth born British Army veteran Taitusi Ratucaucau woke up in hospital following the emergency removal of a brain tumour, he faced a bill of nearly £30,000. An ongoing dispute with the Home Office denied him access to free healthcare, so it was down to the British public’s generosity to cover the costs. When I first read his story, I didn’t believe it.
In a debate last week in Parliament, I raised the shameful treatment our Commonwealth veterans and their experience when trying to make a new life in Britain. Despite their service, these veterans must foot a bill of thousands of pounds to live in the country they risked their lives defending. Without the right paperwork, veterans are left in limbo; with no right to work and no access to our NHS or welfare system.
At the heart of this issue are eight Fijian British Army veterans, including Taitusi. Two months ago, these men lost their legal battle to stay in the UK. After the Government failed to notify them of the immigration processes involved to live here, they took their case to court. The ruling has left the men facing exorbitant fees to stay in the country they call home, unable to work to support their families and in fear of deportation. Although the Government won the legal case, they have lost the moral case by denying these veterans the rights and freedoms they fought to uphold.
These veterans have over 68 years of service in our Armed Forces. They served bravely on countless dangerous operations. Quite simply, it is scandalous that these veterans are treated in this way. They've risked their lives, and seen their comrades lose theirs – what else do they have to give?
Commonwealth soldiers have a long and proud history of serving in our Armed Forces, including during the First and Second World Wars. The recruitment of brave Gurka soldiers provided vital support to British troops and strengthened alliances. In 1961, following the end of National Service in the UK and to fill our shortfall in recruitment, soldiers from the Commonwealth nations like Fiji stepped up and enlisted. Our Armed Forces continues to recruit 1,350 Commonwealth personnel per year.
The Commonwealth personnel I served alongside, did so bravely and with distinction. Some lost their lives. All provided invaluable support. It is only right that their sacrifice is properly recognised. We owe them a debt of gratitude. We can begin to repay that debt through the right to settle in the UK. I’ve raised the case of Taitusi and his comrades in Parliament and in letters to numerous government ministers and I’ll keep on fighting for justice for our veterans. It’s why I’m proud to lend my support to the vitally important campaigns that Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey and the Royal British Legion are running to scrap the appalling charges that our Commonwealth veterans face and make sure they get the support they deserve and are properly recognised for their service.
The debate I contributed to last week looks to enshrine the Armed Forces Covenant into law. The Covenant sets out the moral contract binding the nation, the Government, those who serve and have served the Armed Forces, and their families, together. It is there to protect and recognise the extraordinary role of our service personnel. I am immensely proud that Barnsley Council and the Sheffield City Region are signatories to it. Yet the Covenant seemingly does not apply to our Commonwealth veterans. The Government must right this historic wrong and ensure that these men receive the rights and freedoms they so bravely fought for.