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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 14:28 GMT
First citizenship ceremony for UK
Prince Charles and the Sharifi family
The Sharifi family receive their citizenship certificates
The first ceremony for immigrants granted British citizenship has taken place in London.

Nineteen people, including three children, from 10 countries, took part in the event at Brent town hall.

Home Secretary David Blunkett was there, as was Prince Charles, who said he hoped it "added something to the significance" of becoming a UK citizen.

The 19 swore allegiance to the Queen, sang the national anthem and pledged to respect the UK's rights and freedoms.

'Great tradition'

They also promised to uphold the country's democratic values before heading for an official reception at Brent's Paul Daisley Hall.

The ceremony began with an introduction by the Mayor of Brent, The Rev Peter Lemmon, followed by a speech from Mr Blunkett.

I think the ceremony idea is excellent. It puts extra emphasis on becoming a UK citizen and it makes it feel more important
Mriganka Chatterjee

He told them it was "a proud moment" to initiate the celebration.

He said: "I think the new ceremonies across the country will be the answer to those who fear difference, who fear the diversity which comes with migration of people coming across the world to live in our community and sends a very clear message that those who choose to be part of the family are committing themselves."

The applicants then gave their oaths before being formally welcomed by Prince Charles.

"Being British is something of a blessing and a privilege for us all," the prince told them.

"I very much hope that this ceremony has added something to the significance of acquiring British citizenship and that it's reinforced your belief, if indeed any reinforcement is required, that you belong here and are very welcome."

Among those taking part were the Sharifi family from Afghanistan who moved to the UK in the early 1990s.

Citizenship 'important'

Husband and wife Fraidon and Palwasha Sharifi, their children Munilla and Hasib and Fraidon's mother Karima are now living in Kingsbury, north London.

Before the ceremony, Mrs Sharifi, 26, said: "My kids were born in London and are growing up here, and that's why it's important for us to become citizens as well."

Indian-born Mriganka Chatterjee, 32, and wife Aparna, 30, who moved to the UK in 1997, also took part.

Mr Chatterjee said: "Being a British citizen will make me feel more a part of the community, the country and the culture.

"The ceremony idea is an excellent one. It puts extra emphasis on becoming a citizen and makes it feel more important."

All applicants successfully applying for citizenship since 1 January 2004 will now take part in similar occasions, which cost participants 68 each.

Class pilots

The permanent format of the ceremonies has still to be decided, although it has emerged the national anthem may not be sung or played at all of them.

Those living in Scotland and Wales will probably get the chance to sing anthems appropriate to their home locations.

Prince Charles and David Blunkett
It is a proud moment for any Home Secretary to have initiated a new way of doing this that celebrates properly the tremendous step that you are taking
David Blunkett
Home Secretary

Until now, people becoming British citizens have sworn an oath of allegiance in front of a solicitor, before receiving their certificate in the post.

Ceremonies will be held in other towns and cities over the coming year and classes to improve English and knowledge of UK institutions and the law will also be piloted.

A citizenship handbook containing information about laws, getting information and how to obtain help in the UK is also being developed.

About 90,000 adult applicants are successful each year in their bid to become British.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Westhead
"The whole ceremony could hardly have been more British"



SEE ALSO:
UK 'citizenship test' unveiled
31 Jan 03  |  UK News
Blunkett names 'Britishness' chief
10 Sep 02  |  Politics


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