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UK minister’s remark upsets Gurkhas

Britons are known for holding soldiers and soldiering in high esteem. But a government minister has upset thousands by complaining that Gurkha war veterans settled in a small English town are crowding out locals by occupying all the park benches.

world Updated: Apr 01, 2012 23:31 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

Britons are known for holding soldiers and soldiering in high esteem. But a government minister has upset thousands by complaining that Gurkha war veterans settled in a small English town are crowding out locals by occupying all the park benches.

“I was walking around in Aldershot… and everywhere I went there were Nepalese people just basically sitting out in the open, sitting on the park benches,” said Gerald Howarth, minister for international security strategy.

“I mean, you might find this bizarre, but some of my constituents say ‘If I go into the town, I haven’t got a park bench to sit on because they are all taken by the Nepalese’. They do not understand our customs and so many are just wandering around.”

Aldershot was where Gurkha veterans headed after being granted migration and settlement rights in 2008. Some 10,000 retired Gurkhas, including families, have settled in Britain — mostly in Aldershot.

Howarth’s claim is disputed by Gurkhas, who say most Aldershot residents have only respect and affection for them. “Over 95% of Gurkhas in Britain are in employment, including 70% of women under the age of 60,” Gyan Raj Rai of the United British Gurkhas Ex-Servicemen’s Association told HT.

“Obviously, the old veterans, who left the British Army in the 1970s, cannot work. That’s why they are in the park — to meet each other.”