Will the Government come to the defence of an Iraq war hero?
A Fijian citizen who was seriously injured in Iraq in 2005, and was diagnosed with PTSD after a further tour but reportedly received no treatment for it, is now threatened with deportation from the United Kingdom.
Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker writes:
If our Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, is as keen as he claims to be on rebuilding the "Military Covenant", whereby the British people show proper care for all those members of the Armed Forces who are prepared to put their health and lives at risk on our behalf, he might begin by addressing himself to the plight of Epeli Uluilakeba, a 28-year-old Fijian, known to his friends and comrades as Pex.
Two years ago I wrote here, more than once, about Private Phillip Hewett, who died in Iraq in 2005 along with two other soldiers when the wholly inadequate Snatch Land Rover in which they were patrolling was blown up by an improvised explosive device (IED). His mother, Sue Smith, decided to sue the Ministry of Defence, to expose its negligence in sending soldiers out in these hopelessly unprotected vehicles. When she was denied legal help to do so, our readers contributed more than £7,000 to get her case under way (it is still continuing).
Along with Pte Hewett in that Land Rover was Pex, Pte Uluilakeba, who had been serving in the Army for just a year. Despite being seriously injured when the blast tore their vehicle apart, he sought to give first aid to one of his dying comrades, who lay beside the corpse of their patrol leader.
From this bloody chaos, Pex emerged with severe psychological trauma. But he was what his commanding officer described as "a dedicated, enthusiastic and very capable field soldier, whose team spirit and loyalty is first-class". Within a year he was deemed fit to be sent back to Iraq, where he endured the terrifying siege of Basra Palace. When he returned once more to England he was diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – for which he received no treatment.
Still deeply disturbed by his experiences, he took to heavy drinking. In the small hours of one morning, when an over-zealous corporal was shouting to evacuate the barracks for a fire-drill, Pex drew a knife on him. For this, he was court martialled in 2009. After a short spell in Colchester prison, the Army discharged him as "no longer being of service".
A devout Christian, Pex pulled himself together, became a teetotaller, and set about training to qualify as a plumber. But, being a Fijian citizen, he was not allowed to work, claim benefits or even sign on with a GP. (He still has to pull bits of shrapnel out of his own legs, because he has no doctor.)
Supported by members of the Fijian community, with whom he has been living, Pex last year applied for permission to remain permanently in Britain. Last month his application was refused by the UK Border Agency, on the grounds that he had been court martialled. He was told that if he did not leave the country by February 7 he would be deported.
Such is the bizarre state of our immigration laws that, thanks to European legislation, we cannot deport a citizen of an EU country, even a rapist or murderer. Meanwhile, judges prevent the deportation of a Pakistani who knocked down a 12-year-old girl and caused her to "die like a dog" as she was dragged along by his car. But a man who has sustained permanent injury in the field in the defence of Britain cannot be allowed to live in our country, although his only wish is to stay peaceably and to work for his living.
Fortunately, Pex has good friends, including Sue Smith and Elaine Laga, a widow who also lost a soldier son, in a Land Rover accident in Germany. She has paid £500 from her meagre savings to enable Pex to apply to the Home Office to re-examine his application to stay in Britain – which is why he is still here, despite the deportation deadline having passed.
As Mrs Smith says: "I cannot believe this country has allowed rapists, child molesters and terrorists to stay here, yet a man who is quite willing to give his life for Queen and country is being booted out." Mrs Laga adds: "When you consider who we let into this country and provide for, it is a shame that we cannot look after a war veteran and a hero, a man who would be getting on with his life if allowed to."
If Dr Fox really is commited to the "Military Covenant" that he wants us all to honour, he could prove it by ordering a review of the case of Pex, Mr Epeli Uluilakeba, as a top priority.
- Several contributors to the comments below have asked how they might contribute to a fighting fund for Pex. Cheques made out to Elaine Laga can be sent on via Christopher Booker (Pex), Sunday Telegraph, 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT. This will ensure that the money reaches Pex, who is not allowed to open a UK bank account.
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