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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
'I always believed I was British'
Former Gurkhas register their demand for UK citizenship in Liverpool
Many Gurkhas think UK citizenship is the least they deserve
Gurkhas who have served in the British Army are to be allowed to apply to settle in the UK and gain British citizenship.

BBC News Online spoke to a retired regimental sergeant major with a restaurant in Warwickshire who had been facing deportation to Nepal.

The British Army's Brigade of Gurkhas recruited Om Barkash in Nepal at the age of 22.

"It is a tradition," he told BBC News Online.

"My great grandfather, two grandfathers, father and brother were all Gurkhas."

But Mr Barkash was motivated by more than a desire to follow in his family's footsteps.

There was no running water, and a rebellion by Maoist guerrillas problems was causing the country many problems
Om Barkash

"Nepal is a Third World country," he told BBC News Online.

"And if you join the Gurkhas you can look after your family."

Twenty two years later, RSM Barkash's family was flourishing.

Having worked his way up through the ranks during postings in Brunei, Singapore, Germany, Canada, the US, and the UK, he was one of the 9,000 Gurkhas serving in Hong Kong.

His wife lived there too, with their 10-year-old daughter - born in the colony's British Military Hospital - who was attending an English-language school.

But in 1997, when the British handed Hong Kong back to China, RSM Barkash - along with 6,500 of his Gurkha comrades - was forced to retire.

Nepali-language education

The family returned to Nepal - but, having grown up in Hong Kong, his daughter found it difficult to adjust.

"She found it strange in Nepal," Mr Barkash told BBC News Online.

"There was no running water, and a rebellion by Maoist guerrillas was causing the country many problems."

Most of all, Mr Barkash's daughter found it hard to adjust to a Nepali-language education.

Life savings

So after eight months in Nepal, the family travelled to the UK.

They came on visitors' visas but with the intention of applying for residency.

Mr Barkash spent his life savings on opening a restaurant, the Crossed Kukris in Nuneaton, and enrolled his daughter at a local school.

But Home Office immigration regulations denied the family rights to British citizenship.

British soldier

And until recently they have been living with the threat of deportation back to Nepal.

"It was a disgrace," Mr Barkash told BBC News Online.

"I always believed when I was in the Army that I was a British soldier - for 22 years I had to do the same as or maybe more than my British counterparts.

"So when I retired and the British treated me differently it was very shocking."

Good news

Mr Barkash and his family welcomed Thursdays' announcement by the prime minister, Tony Blair, that Gurkhas with more than four years' service will be entitled to British citizenship.

"This is very very good news," he told BBC News Online.

And they are not the only ones.

"It is not only me - there are about 400 Gurkhas who are here now waiting to see if they have to leave this country," Mr Barkash told BBC News Online.

"We are very delighted."


SEE ALSO:
Who are the Gurkhas?
21 Feb 03  |  UK
Gurkhas' UK citizen bid reviewed
01 Sep 04  |  Merseyside
Gurkha medal in London auction
22 Jul 04  |  South Asia
Gurkhas solve bus driver crisis
15 Jun 04  |  South West Wales


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