Warning: This post was published more than 9 years ago.
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Since last Thursday, when the story of the refusal of Tul Bahadur Pun’s immigration application broke, I’ve been contacted by a quite extraordinary range of people asking me to support his appeal – from people I’ve never met, to fellow bloggers, to personal friends, to TV presenters. Mr Pun has, intentionally or otherwise, become the cause célèbre of students, social networkers, and bloggers nationwide (examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10), but I’m not so sure about his case.
Tul Bahadur Pun is an 84 year-old Nepalese citizen. He’s lived in Nepal for most of his life, and, like may 84 year-olds, has developed a collection of medical conditions – in his case, heart problems, asthma, and diabetes. In his home country of Nepal, medication is not regularly available for his consumption, and so he’d like to move to Britain.
Mr Pun has no family in Britain. He has no-one to support him. He wants to move here to use the services of the NHS, and no doubt rely on Social Services for his social requirements. He is the classical immigrant ‘drain on society’ that the Daily Mail is forever seeking to vilify.
Yet a huge amount of support has surrounded Mr Pun’s case, as he fought for 18 years with the Indian Army and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his efforts with the allied forces during the Second World War. Does that entitle him to British citizenship? By current immigration rules? No. Morally? I’m not sure.
If you read around his case, you’ll come across a lot of emotive stuff about him being denied entry to Britain on the basis that he ‘failed to demonstrate strong ties to the UK’. In immigration terms, this means he’ll be reliant on the state, and so saying that receipt of the VC ‘demonstrates strong ties’ is misleading. You’ll also note that this was only one of several reasons why his application was denied, another being that it was not demonstrated that regular medication would actually improve his condition. Try to find the full text of his rejection has beaten me, which makes it difficult to make an informed judgement on the case.
But more sinister about the whole campaign for which Mr Pun has become the poster-boy is that thousands of people are being urged to sign a Downing Street petition calling for all Ghurkas to have the right to come and settle in the UK. People who support this one individual case are being urged to support a campaign that has quite different aims to merely allowing Mr Pun access to healthcare. It’s extrapolation from one emotive case to the cases of many, and however sympathetic I might feel towards Mr Pun, the underhand way in which his lawyers are playing this game is despicable.
If we open our doors to all Ghurkas, who else are we to admit? Is every US soldier that has served alongside British comrades in Iraq to be entitled to NHS care because of the shocking state of medical care in their home country? And besides, why are we limiting ourselves to those who have made a military contribution to the country? Are there not many others who’ve made an equally large contribution, with equally large personal sacrifice, who deserve citizenship too? I’m sure as Brits we have plenty of our own examples of Clara Maass, but our national obsession with remembering and honouring militarian sacrifices means that they are tragically forgotten. Many, many people risk their lives for the good of this country day after day – only the tiniest proportion of them are military personnel.
Mr Pun fought for the wellbeing of a grateful nation, and did so with exceptional bravery. Nonetheless, he did so voluntarily, of his own free will. He now has health problems unrelated to his service, but would like something back from the country for which he gave so much. I’m not sure we’re morally obliged to provide it, but it seems mean-spirited at best to deny citizenship and care to the exceptional Mr Pun, and I will make those views known to the relevant people in the relevant ways.
But who else, out of the thousands of people who apply for immigration each year, is exceptional? How do we define who ‘deserves’ our help and who doesn’t? The fact is, we condemn an awful lot of people to receiving poor medical care every year, and every one of those cases is a tragedy – but a necessary tragedy if we want to retain the level of health and social care we universally provide to citizens of our fine country.
The question is not about Mr Pun, and certainly not about allowing Mr Pun and all of his comrades have open access to the UK. The question is much bigger than that. And I have no answers.