Lost generation of elderly Gurkhas struggle in Britain

Fri Nov 8, 2013 12:31pm EST
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By Hannah Vinter

FARNBOROUGH, England (Reuters) - Retired Captain Birbahadur Thapa served in the British army for 28 years as part of the Brigade of Gurkhas, the fighting force recruited in Nepal whose kukri-wielding soldiers have long been famed as fearsome warriors.

Now he leads a less glamorous existence in the run-down southern English town of Farnborough.

Thapa, 72, is one of a number of former Gurkhas who were able to move to England after 2009, following a successful campaign spearheaded by actress Joanna Lumley to give all members of the brigade with at least four years service the right to settle in Britain.

But almost half a decade after the event, many elderly retired Gurkhas find themselves struggling to adapt.

"Our people, who have come here to settle, especially old people, they haven't got any relatives, they haven't got anybody, life is so tough for them," Thapa said.

An estimated 10,000 ex-Gurkha heads of family live in Britain, having come here after serving in the famous brigade that since 1815 has fought in numerous conflicts, from Gallipoli to Malaya to the current war in Afghanistan.

But though they have been part of the British army, many older ex-Gurkhas do not speak good English and find navigating life in the country a challenge.

"The elderly people who come here in particular find it very difficult to integrate because they don't speak the language, they don't understand the system," said William Shuttlewood, director of the Gurkha Welfare Trust charity.   Continued...

Retired Gurkha soldiers march in protest during a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in London October 25, 2013. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez