London, United Kingdom – Campaigners are calling on the United Kingdom to protect Fijian soldiers who served in the British Army after they lost a court battle to remain in the UK.
The UK’s High Court on Tuesday rejected a request by eight Fijian soldiers, who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, for a judicial review of their immigration cases, which could have allowed them to remain in the UK.
Fiji is part of the Commonwealth, a political association of 54 member states. Almost all, including Fiji, are former territories of the British Empire.
The eight veterans are now trapped in legal limbo after failing to apply for the right to stay in the UK when they were discharged, and face paying visa application fees of 2,389 pounds ($3,212) – an amount some cannot afford.
The decision was delivered on Tuesday by Mr Justice Graham, who said the group was too late in making their claims, adding the court was concerned with “illegality not misadministration”.
David McMullan, a 13-year veteran with the Justice for Commonwealth Veterans campaign, works alongside the Fijians’ legal team, crowdfunding legal costs to try and help them secure indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
“Everyone can see it for what it is, which it is unfair and unjust to be treated like this,” he told Al Jazeera. “It’s all part of the ‘hostile environment’ that we’re in right now, where people from other countries are treated badly in the UK.”
The Commonwealth has long been a recruiting ground for the British Army.
Commonwealth personnel serving in the armed forces are exempt from immigration controls, an exception which is removed immediately upon being discharged.
Those who serve more than four years without serious misconduct are legally entitled to apply for the right to live and work in the UK.
The Fijian veterans assumed that leave to remain was automatic, and have blamed their situation on bureaucratic errors, saying they were not properly informed of their legal rights.
Anthony Metzer QC, the lead lawyer for the claimants, said his clients were “bitterly disappointed” by Tuesday’s decision.
In a statement, he said: “We very much hope that in raising these fundamental issues within the army and the Home Office, and seeing the overwhelming support that the case has gained from members of the public, Members of Parliament and members of the wider Armed Forces community, the government will find a reasonable and fair-minded solution for these veterans, who have provided such invaluable service for this country.”
One of the veterans, Taitusi Ratucaucau, joined the British Army in 2001 and remained in the UK where he has a wife and three children. He has served for more than 10 years in the British Army.
He was forced to crowdfund almost 50,000 pounds ($67,000) for a life-saving operation on a brain tumour after he was told he was ineligible for NHS treatment because his immigration status meant he was treated as an overseas patient.
Vinita Templeton, another lawyer for the veterans, said the court case had brought to light “longstanding failures” in the treatment of foreign and Commonwealth veterans in the British Army.
“There has been ongoing, widespread public support and media interest, which has triggered the Government into saying there will be public consultations regarding the fees issue,” she told Al Jazeera.
Responding to the decision, a government spokesperson said: “The Ministry of Defence will be launching a public consultation in due course, that will consider how they can offer greater flexibility for serving personnel and their families in the future.”