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Supporting Gurkhas in the UK and Nepal
THE Gurkha Welfare Trust, which has its headquarters in Salisbury, was established in 1969 when it was realised that a great many elderly Gurkha soldiers and their dependents or widows were living in destitution in Nepal.
Many had served in the Second World War; however, they had not served the 15 years needed to qualify for an army pension so the Trust was established to “relieve poverty and distress among Gurkha veterans of the Crown and their dependents”.
Today, The Gurkha Welfare Trust supports 7,500 Gurkhas and their widows in Nepal through the payment of a monthly welfare pension, given to those who do not qualify for an army pension and do not have any other form of income.
With Gurkhas increasingly retiring to the UK, the trust now has a role supporting the welfare needs of those Gurkhas who have chosen to live here. It provides advice and information from its two Gurkha welfare centres based in Salisbury and Aldershot.
With the introduction of the new HM Forces Immigration Rule in October 2004, applying to those retiring on or after July 1 1997, significant numbers of retired Gurkhas became entitled to live and work in the UK.
This increased when, in May 2009, the Home Office announced that Gurkhas who served between 1948 and 1997 would also be allowed to settle here.
This created the need for a welfare structure for those who might fall on hard times.
ABF The Soldier’s Charity, The Royal British Legion, SSAFA and other service charities all pledged to assist Gurkhas in the same way as they support British ex-servicemen.
In the front line to support retired Gurkha pensioners living in the UK is the Gurkha Welfare Officer Capt (Retd) Gary Ghale supported by an Assistant Gurkha Welfare Officer, Capt (Retd) Nirmal Gurung, both working from the Salisbury office.
Captain Ghale has been with the centre since the office opened in Salisbury in 2010, after leaving the army in 2007 and having had a number of other jobs.
“I was recruited in 2009 and at first worked in Aldershot before we opened the Salisbury office,” he said.
“Together we have helped some 3,500 retired Gurkha soldiers, with more than 2,000 cases being dealt with from the Salisbury office. We now have some 11,000 Gurkha heads of families that we know of living in the UK.
“Most of the younger generation are doing very well. Those that have retired in the UK and some pre-1997 Gurkhas have good English language skills and are working. We carried out a survey three or four years ago and almost 94 per cent of the male population and 84 per cent of the females are in employment.”
After 2009 the main influx has been of older soldiers who fought in the Malayan and Indonesian campaigns. When these soldiers were made redundant, they returned to Nepal, often working on farmland and they have poor language skills and little knowledge of the UK.
“These are the ones in dire need,” said Captain Ghale. “There are several things that we do for them, starting in the Gurkha office in Kathmandu where they are briefed about life in the UK and are helped with processing their visa applications and making sure they have the right documentation. All this is free for them and enables us to help them access their eligible benefits when they arrive.
“We help them to settle in the UK and signpost them to the right organisations working closely with central and local government and the service charities.”
There are 38 Gurkha communities dotted around the UK from Scotland to Dorset and they provide mutual support for one another.
The centre organises an annual conference for the community leaders to update them and help solve any problems and issues that they might have.
“This is very successful and I am pleased to say that there are no homeless Gurkhas in the UK at present. The communities around the Aldershot centre tend to be elderly with no young relations in the country. The majority of those that we deal with from Salisbury and the rest of the country are mainly living with younger relatives or serving soldiers and they help them out.
“The biggest problem we have with the elderly who arrive is lack of language coupled with a lack of understanding of the culture and coping with living in a town or a city. We run English classes here in Salisbury, but sadly our tutor, who gives her services free, is unwell and unable to teach at the moment.”
The Gurkha Welfare Trust spends some £12m annually supporting Gurkha pensioners and dependants in Nepal, and the establishment of the centre has placed an additional burden on their funds, but the value of the work of the centre is out of proportion to its cost. The trust is a registered charity and relies on donations to keep its work going but also is in need of Nepali speakers to act as interpreters and to teach English, so if you can help, get in touch at gwt.org.uk.
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