Lance Corporal Gyanendra Rai was deployed from the UK to the Falklands in 1982 to fight with the British Army in the war against Argentina. During the Bluff Cove air attack, an operation deemed crucial to victory for British troops during the war, Rai was struck by an Argentinean artillery shell. Half of his body caught fire and a large hole was gouged out from the left side of his body, his intestines spilling out onto the battlefield.
Rai was one of hundreds of wounded British soldiers during the Falklands war. But despite having served for 13 years in the British Army and risking his life in the process, Rai – along with hundreds of other British Gurkha veterans – was not entitled to settle in the UK when his army service had finished.
Before a landmark legal ruling in 2008, Gurkhas who retired from the army before 1997 were automatically discharged back to Nepal – and not entitled to live in the UK. “When I fought in the Falklands War it was not for the benefit of my country [Nepal]; I wore the British Army uniform. I fought and spilled my blood for this country,” says Rai.
But when Rai tried to apply to live in the country for which he fought for 13 years, he was told by the Home Office that he did not have “close connections to the UK”. He did not have the money or the legal knowledge to appeal against the Home Office’s decision from abroad.
As a result, Rai was not entitled to seek work in the UK, nor send his children to a British school. Most importantly, he could not access the British healthcare system, despite the brutal injuries he sustained while serving in the British Army.
Rai is outraged by the discrimination suffered by Gurkhas at the hands of the British Government. “All serving soldiers are recruited to the same British Army,” he says. “It is not appropriate to separate them into two different classes of soldiers.”
“British-born soldiers and British Gurkha soldiers have fought in the same battles and spilled the same blood. We are all part of the same British Army, so we should all receive equal treatment.”
Legal aid solicitors Howe and Co. eventually managed to secure legal aid for Rai and hundreds of other British Gurkha veterans to challenge the Home Office’s policy refusing Gurkhas who retired prior to 1997 the right to settle in the UK.
In September 2008, the Gurkhas won their High Court challenge to the policy in a decision which allowed hundreds of retired Gurkhas to live in the UK.
“If there was no legal aid, it would have been very difficult for Gurkhas to settle in the UK,” says Rai. “For me, I could not have settled in the UK because I do not receive any army pension. It would have been impossible for me to fight my case without legal aid.”
Gurkha veterans continue to fight for pensions equal to those received by the British soldiers they served alongside all over the world. “There are two different classes within the Armed Forces,” says Rai. “If we were not considered as equal Armed Forces then why did the British Army take us into the wars?”
Without legal aid, Rai and thousands of other British Gurkha veterans cannot continue their fight for equality with other British veterans. “We seek justice in terms of our human rights,” says Rai. “However, without legal aid it is impossible to fight these cases so legal aid is very important to us.”
“Without legal aid life is incomplete; we cannot assert our reasonable rights,” concludes Rai. “Our lives will be devastated if there is no legal aid.”