Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thursday, February 22, 2007: letter in SCMP

Seeking clarification

In "What am I, then?" (February 12), Hong Kong-born Nepalese Damar Thapa describes his frustrated efforts to apply for British citizenship - an attempt prompted by our letter "British citizenship" (November 27).

This letter explained that solely Nepalese passport holders born in Hong Kong before June 30, 1976, who have never held a BN(O) passport, can qualify for a British Overseas citizen passport if they did not formally renounce their British nationality before turning 21.

On trying to apply, Mr Thapa discovered that the British authorities required a certificate from the government of Nepal stating that he is not a Nepalese citizen - but its consulate in Hong Kong won't give him one because it says he is not a Hong Kong citizen.

Our letter was based on statements made by Home Office ministers in June last year. Since then, the British authorities have clarified that those statements were based on their own interpretation of Nepalese nationality law, and needed clarification.

In response to a request for more information, the government of Nepal then explained that a child born abroad to Nepalese parents can "choose citizenship of his/her liking" on turning 16, the age from which a citizenship certificate is issued. Anyone who does not make a choice by the age of 21, it said, "automatically loses Nepalese citizenship".

Unsatisfied with this response, senior Home and Foreign Office officials flew to Kathmandu on November 22 to clarify the matter. At this meeting, the Nepalese government explained that there is "a total prohibition on dual nationality in Nepal regardless of how the two nationalities are obtained".

We presume this means that a person holding British nationality by birth in Hong Kong cannot lawfully be granted Nepalese citizenship between the ages of 16 and 21 unless and until he renounces British nationality. Unless he has done so, any Nepalese citizenship certificate held by him would be void.

We call on the Nepalese authorities and the consul-general in Hong Kong to expeditiously provide written confirmation of this to allow these solely British nationals to exercise their claims to citizenship.

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

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