Tuesday, July 04, 2006

South China Morning Post, July 4, 2006


The British Home Office admitted earlier this year that the citizenship applications of about 600 ethnic Indians in Hong Kong had been "wrongly refused" as a result of a misinterpretation of Indian law.

In addition to those who were wrongly refused, we believe staff of the British consulate in Hong Kong discouraged hundreds of people from applying for full citizenship between July 1997 and February this year, when the error was corrected.

Unfortunately, the British National (Overseas) children of Indian descent were not the only ones denied their right to acquire full citizenship. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of BN(O)s of Nepalese descent who were under the age of 21 in 1997 are in the same position. Nepalese law provides that any citizen who acquires another citizenship otherwise than by birth automatically ceases to be Nepalese. BN(O) status could be acquired only by making a written application for registration. It is therefore impossible to be a BN(O) and citizen of BN(O) children of Nepalese origin became, de facto, stateless at the handover on July 1, 1997. The British citizenship scheme for ethnic minorities was designed to address this problem. Then shadow home secretary Jack Straw wrote to the\nBritish home secretary on January 30, 1997, taking the position that

"common sense and common humanity demand that we give these people full British citizenship".

The Home Office recently agreed that BN(O) passport holders of Nepalese descent who were under the age of 21 in 1997 qualified for British citizenship if they met the Hong Kong residence requirement of the Ethnic Minorities Citizenship Scheme. We call on the British consulate in Hong Kong to take immediate steps to ensure that the many BN(O) children of Nepalese descent be allowed to exercise this entitlement.

LORD AVEBURY, House of Lords, and TAMEEM A. EBRAHIM, London

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