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Great news that Gurkhas can now stay in Britain; voice of the north.

Byline: Dayle Crutchlow

THE immigration issue is a conversational hot potato these days. Asylum seekers are roundly derided and calls for the UK borders to be closed to immigrants are deafening in some quarters.

It is in this climate that the best bit of news I've heard all week was announced - Gurkha soldiers based in Nuneaton have won the right to apply to settle in the UK and gain British citizenship after leaving the Army.

With Bramcote Barracks being home to a squadron of Gurkhas, Tony Blair's announcement is likely to have a significant effect on our town.

And yet I'd bet money that the news will not be greeted with even a murmur of opposition in Nuneaton, or in any other town in the UK.

Because these Nepalese soldiers, and their families, are almost universally respected and admired.

They serve our country corageously, heroically and with unstinting loyalty.

It has long been a disgrace that, after shedding their blood for England, they were not allowed to stay here.

As county councillor Alan Farnell (Con, Weddington), who has recently championed the Gurkha cause, said: "I was outraged that the Gurkha soldiers could be granted the freedom of the borough in Nuneaton and Bedworth, but not the right to live here."

These people would never be a drain to the taxpayer. They want to work and they will work. They want to run businesses, they want to employ people.

In fact, they would see it as a dishonour to claim benefits.

Take the case of Om Barkash, who runs the Crossed Khukris in Abbey Street, a superb Gurkha restaurant and one of the best eating establishments in Nuneaton.

Om was a regimental sergeant major at Bramcote, where he served for 22 years and was awarded the MBE by the Queen after completing his service.

This is a man we should be proud to call a Nuneatonian and yet, until this announcement, he faced deportation once his British-born daughter completed her education.

It may be something of a generalisation, but many of the older generation are often among the most intolerant of "outsiders" settling on these shores.

And yet, almost to a man, they speak in absolute awe of the Gurkhas, especially those who have served alongside them.

Old men and old ladies whose husbands had seen action with these men approached me after reading stories I'd written about the campaign and told me they should be allowed to stay here as long as they liked.

They speak of their dignity, their discipline, their sense of honour and their awesome fighting prowess. My own late Grandad described them as "the most magnificent fighting men" he'd ever met.

You really wouldn't want to mess with them - something those charming and intelligent people with a penchant for slashing tyres in predominantly ethnic minority communities around Edward Street would do well to remember.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Oct 2, 2004
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