Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Letter published in The Rising Nepal, December 1

Serious difficulties are being faced by people who hold British nationality by birth in Hong Kong and are of Nepalese ancestry. Many are entitled to register for full British citizenship, with right of abode in the UK, under the UK’s British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1997 or British Nationality Act 1981. Applicants must have held no other nationality on February 4, 1997 or June 30, 1997.

The responsible Minister confirmed to me in the House of Lords on January 18, 2007 that these people were British Dependent Territories citizens on February 4, 1997 and June 30, 1997. But the UK refuses to register them as full British citizens because the Government say that even though they were adults they legally held dual British/Nepalese nationality on those dates. The Minister advised me on July 17, 2007 that under Nepalese law it is possible for an adult person to hold British and Nepalese nationality at the same time.

British authorities tried to persuade the Government of India to take a similar view regarding people of Indian descent from Hong Kong, but the Government of India took a clear position against dual nationality. When senior officials from our Foreign & Commonwealth Office visited New Delhi on May 15, 1990, to lobby the Indian authorities to take responsibility for British nationals of Indian ancestry from Hong Kong, they were rebuffed. On July 25, 1991, in a debate on this issue in the Lok Sabha, India's former Prime Minister Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee told the Indian Parliament that "the attitude of the British government is wrong and is based on apartheid". In the same debate, the Indian Minister of External Affairs said that "the government has time and again represented to the British government, saying that these people are your citizens and you must take care of them and protect their rights". British Parliamentarians also raised this issue, The Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, then Shadow Home Secretary and now our Secretary of State for Justice and the Lord Chancellor, wrote to the then Home Secretary on January 30, 1997 taking the position that “common sense and common humanity demand that we give these people full British citizenship.” Thousands of Hong Kong based British Dependent Territories citizens (BDTCs) of Indian ancestry have now acquired full British citizenship.

I now turn to the BDTCs of Nepalese ancestry. Nepalese law has never allowed dual nationality. Section 9(2) of the Nepal Citizenship Act 1964, the law in force at the time of the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, states that:
“In case any person becomes a citizen of a foreign country as well as of Nepal at the same time by reason of birth and descent, he may choose the citizenship of either country within five years of reaching 16 years of age. In the event he fails to do so, his Nepalese citizenship shall automatically lapse on the expiry of this time-limit.”

For a person to obtain a valid Nepalese citizenship certificate by descent, it is therefore a requirement that he or she must have relinquished his or her foreign citizenship within five years of reaching 16 years of age. If a person applied for a Nepalese citizenship certificate after the age of twenty-one, while still holding any foreign citizenship, then that Nepalese citizenship certificate is void (has no legal effect), because under Nepalese law the person’s claim to Nepalese citizenship had automatically lapsed and they did not meet the requirements to lawfully be considered a citizen of Nepal.

I call on the Nepalese authorities to make an official statement to the British authorities, confirming in public that the prohibition on dual nationality in Nepal means that no person aged twenty-one years or older who held British Dependent Territories citizenship can at the same time be considered a citizen of Nepal, even if they hold or held a Nepal citizenship certificate.

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