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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 October 2007, 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK
Injured soldiers face deportation
By Angus Crawford
BBC News

British soldier
Over 7,000 Commonwealth soldiers serve in the UK's armed forces
Some Commonwealth soldiers in the British Army, injured and medically discharged from the service, face deportation, the BBC has learned.

Under Home Office rules, those with less than four years service cannot claim benefits or work in the UK.

But, after an investigation by BBC News, the Home Office appears to have changed its policy.

It will now make an exception for those injured in combat and consider other situations on a case-by-case basis.

'Good soldier'

There are more than 7,000 Commonwealth citizens in the British armed forces.

Melbourne doesn't want to use his full name, but he has no regrets about joining up.

I can't walk, I can't even hold my weapon
Discharged soldier

As a boy in Jamaica it's all he wanted to do.

What he finds hard to accept is being forced to leave the service after being medically discharged.

"I was very, very heart-broken," he says. "I did my best to be a good soldier.

"I totally loved it from the start."

He was first injured during basic training - the extreme cold damaged his hands and feet - and, once in his regiment, it got worse.

"I was like in excruciating pain," he recalls. "I can't walk, I can't even hold my weapon."

Three years and nine months after signing up he was told to leave - not just the Army, but the country.

Normally, personnel from the Commonwealth can only apply to stay in the UK after four years service.

Melbourne is not allowed to work, claim benefits or use the NHS.

The Royal British Legion pays his rent. He wants to stay, claim compensation and work.

'Suffers injury'

Simon Harrington, a solicitor who represents soldiers suffering from similar injuries, says Melbourne was "a fantastic soldier" who had "the potential to make a successful 22-year career".

If any cases of service men or women being refused settlement are as a direct result of injury sustained outside operations, we will look at them on a case-by-case basis
Home Office statement

If sent home, he says Melbourne will find it almost impossible to claim compensation.

Mr Harrington has 14 clients in the same position, but says this is the tip of the iceberg.

"It's anybody who suffers injury as a result of their service before they've served four years," he adds.

The Home Office declined to do interviews, but gave an initial statement to the BBC.

"Any Commonwealth citizen applying for settlement before their four years service is up can submit an application to remain in the UK on compassionate grounds," it reads.

"Where an individual has been medically discharged from our armed forces as a result of injury sustained in service we naturally view the case on special compassionate grounds."

But subsequently, that policy appeared to change.

The Home Office issued a new statement, which runs: "Where a member of our Armed Forces is medically discharged as a direct result of injury sustained during operations, the requirement for them to have completed four years service in order to qualify for settlement will normally be waived.

"If any cases of service men or women being refused settlement are as a direct result of injury sustained outside operations, we will look at them on a case-by-case basis."

So those injured in combat can normally stay.

Those injured in other ways will have to apply and make their case.

Melbourne has already been refused and so still faces removal from the UK.

"I just have to be strong and hope that in the long run something good happens," he says.


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