Motswana stateless after deportation by Britain
by Sunday Standard Reporter
The British government is caught up in a national row over the deportation of a Motswana man who served in the British Army for four years with an ‘exemplary record. The British army is opposing a decision by the UK Border agency to deport Poloko Hiri because he has had a speeding fine.
The 32-year-old Hiri from Botswana has had his application for citizenship rejected because UK Border Agency claimed the single offence was a sign of ‘bad character’.
Officials ruled that Hiri should be bracketed with murderers, rapists and drug dealers – ordering him to quit the country by next Friday. It is a decision that effectively leaves Poloko Hiri stateless as he faces certain arrest, prosecution and up to 25 years in jail if he returns to Botswana which deems enlisting in a foreign army a criminal offence.
His case has left the Government accused once again of ‘betraying’ the military, following round after round of spending cuts. And it comes days after the furore over Fijiborn Lance Corporal Bale Baleiwai, 32, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, who was threatened with deportation last month because he was disciplined by his commanding officer for a fight with a colleague in 2010.
Following an outcry, he was granted an 11th hour reprieve. Campaigners for Spr Hiri contrast his case with that of foreigners who have been allowed to stay in Britain despite awful crimes, such as Iraqi Aso Mohammed Ibrahim, who left a girl of 12 to die under the wheels of his car.
Spr Hiri’s supporters have urged David Cameron to intervene, pointing out the UKBA’s decision is at odds with the Premier’s pledge to uphold the Military Covenant, society’s duty of care to servicemen.
Spr Hiri said: ‘For speeding, I am being treated the same as a murderer or drug lord or a burglar. ‘I am trapped. If I go back home I’ll be thrown in jail. If I stay here, I’ll be breaking the law.’
Spr Hiri, who has a six-month-old baby girl, Peo, in London with his exgirlfriend, enlisted as a Commonwealth serviceman in the Royal Engineers in August 2008. He was eager to fulfill his dream of being a soldier but was too old to join the Botswana Defence Force. He said: “Iraq and Afghanistan were still going on. I knew I might have to put my life on the line and go to a warzone. I was prepared for that.”
Spr Hiri, who lives in Leeds, became a design draughtsman – drawing up plans for bases, roads and other construction projects – and joined 73 Armoured Engineer Squadron, 21 Engineer Regiment.
He completed exercises in the UK and Canada. In August 2011, he gave 12 months notice he wanted to leave the Army to take a degree in archaeological technology at London South Bank University – a move ‘fully supported’ by commanders.
In April this year, he applied for British citizenship ahead of his Army leaving date, August 31. But the UKBA rejected his bid because he had received a £100 fine and five penalty points for speeding on the M1. He had been doing 81mph in a 50mph roadworks zone at 1.30am.
His officer commanding, Major Chloe Plimmer, wrote to the agency praising his ‘exemplary record of conduct’ in the Army.
The Army was ‘genuinely concerned’ that Spr Hiri could be arrested and prosecuted if he was sent home to Botswana. Veterans Aid chief executive, Dr Hugh Milroy, who has been helping fight Spr Hiri’s case, said: “We recruited Poloko and now we are treating him as if he is illegal.
It springs to my mind these people appear disposable, almost like slavery, and no-one seems to care.”
Since January, Veterans Aid has dealt with 70 former Commonwealth soldiers who face being thrown out of Britain. A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “Each claim for settlement is considered on individual circumstances and in line with published policy.”