Despite seeing active service in Afghanistan and Iraq, eight Fijian-born soldiers have failed in their bid to overturn what they say were ‘bureaucratic errors’ which have resulted in them living illegally in the UK.
Mr Justice Garnham refused the veterans leave for a judicial review after claiming that the war heroes had made their claim too late.
In reaching his decision, he added that the courts were concerned with “illegality not misadministration” or an “unfocused idea of fairness.”
Amongst the group of veterans is Remesio Waqaliva aged 42. Waqaliva had completed two tours in Iraq when he was discharged from the British Army having notched up nine years of service.
However, he was not told that he needed to immediately apply for UK citizenship upon his discharge from the armed forces. Applying for citizenship was something that Waqaliva was legally entitled to do.
Married father of four Waqaliva soon discovered that he was unable to work.
He had to rely on handouts from family and friends. Without an income, Waqaliva was unable to save enough money to pay the thousands of pounds needed to cover the lawyer’s fees for his visa.
In an interview, Waqaliva said: “I didn’t have any time to prepare myself. I wasn’t told that my UK visa would expire when I left the army. Once I did realise, I just didn’t have the money. It’s not just the £2,000 [needed to cover the cost of applying for the visa] it’s that I would have to hire a solicitor as well.”
Also in the group is Taitusi Ratucaucau. He is recovering from an operation to remove a brain tumour and is now liable to pay tens of thousands of pounds now that the case had been lost.
The British Army has actively recruited in the islands of Fiji for decades. Those who serve for four years or more are entitled to live and work in the UK as long as they are not subjected to a dishonourable discharge from the forces.
However, the process is not an automatic one and requires a mountain of expensive and complicated paperwork to be completed.
Anthony Metzer QC, the lead lawyer for the claimants, said his clients were “bitterly disappointed” by the judgment.
He added that he hoped ministers would try to find “a reasonable and fair-minded solution for these veterans” against a backdrop of what he said was “overwhelming support” from the military community and the general public.