Gurkhas in the People’s Republic

The British sailed away on 30 June, but the Chief Executive of China´s Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Tung Che-Hwa seems to have made up his mind about the Gurkhas. The soldiers who served in the former British colony will be allowed to stay on in Hong Kong – as security guards, that is! Six Nepali soldiers, who retired after serving the British crown, now control access to Mr Tung´s quarters. They are contracted by Jardine Securicore Gurkhas Limited (JSG), a private company that specialises in supplying high-end security in Hong Kong. Some 600 Gurkha retirees work with JSG. The company combines the reputation of the legendary Gurkha with their training in disciplined services to provide security to the top five percent of the Blue Chip companies (computer industry, telecommunications industry and investment firms in the former colony), Red Chip companies (investments with mainland connections), government, banks and the United Nations in Hong Kong.

At a time when Nepalis are rapidly filling in the lowest echelons of the job market in East Asia and West Asia, the development of the job market in Hong Kong is good news not only for retiree Gurkhas but for Nepal´s economy as a whole. The development of the Hong Kong employment scene provides an example for other regions, with the Gurkhas able to parlay their reputation and experience for well-paying alternatives.

When Chandra Pun retired from the British Army in 1993, he could not find a job in Nepal. "I tried my hand in business," Mr Pun said as Royal Nepal Airlines´ Boeing 757 took off from the Kai Tak Airport and headed east to Kathmandu. "But I was no good with business. After 18 months, I left for Hong Kong for this job." Mr Pun was returning to Nepal in June after finishing his two-year contract with JSG as Mr Tung´s chief of security.

Like Mr Pun, other highly skilled Nepali soldiers who spent their youth in service of the British crown find it hard reintegrating in Nepal. With the Nepali economy in shambles and employment opportunities limited for these hill people who have lived all their working lives away, their choices are limited to starting retail shops with their savings, or starting small-time businesses. Nepal has not made concerted efforts to create employment or investment opportunities for the returning Gurkha soldiers and they are forced to look abroad.

"Jobs in security, wherever they are, provide continuity," said Juktiman Rai, the Gurkha liaison officer with International Catholic Migration Commission in Tuen Mun, New Territories. "This is similar to the work we do in the army." The Commission has contracted out the security of Pillar Point Refugee Centre, which houses approximately 1500 Vietnamese refugees and their children, to the JSG.

Mr Rai, himself a retired Gurkha soldier, worked with JSG for two years before joining the Commission. He manages 18 Nepali security guards, who patrol the centre in two shifts. The security company´s managing director Christopher Hardy said the idea of employing ex-servicemen for security came to him as he was trekking along the Madi river in West Nepal. "The British Government announced the cuts (in the number of Gurkha soldiers)," Hardy said. "And the budos (old men, who had worked with the British) were worried. A repeat of 1966, when the British pulled out of Malaysia would be devastating."

With the thought in his mind, Mr Hardy came back to Hong Kong, resigned from Her Majesty´s Service and started Maximum Security Asia. A year later, in 1993, the company merged with Jardine and has grown ever since. Soon, said Steve Hagwood, operations manager for the company, it will start providing high-end security in Malaysia, Singapore, India and Papua New Guinea as well.

The fast-paced growth of the Southeast Asian economy creates a demand for trained and disciplined security personnel and JSG, with eager-for-employment former Gurkhas from the impoverished hills at its disposal and extensive contacts all over Southeast Asia, seems well-placed to cater to this demand. The JSG, which started four years ago with only a handful of people, now has 600 people on two-year contracts. The demand for trained security guards has grown so much, said director Hardy, that the company will soon start hiring Gurkha soldiers who served in the Indian Army.

"We started with Hong Kong because Gurkhas are already known here as professional, efficient people," Mr Hardy said. "It was a natural beginning."

JSG´s agent in Kathmandu, Nepal Re-employment Service, has some 800 members. When retiree soldiers return to Nepal, they register at NRS, take an English language test and are given a week-long training to help them adapt to work in the commercial sector. "We make them ready for a second career," said Bijaya Moktan, director of NRS.

While other South Asians born in Hong Kong [also Nepalis], line up the immigration tower in Wan Chai, along with Filipinos and mainland Chinese to get permits to work as maids or construction workers, the retiree Gurkhas do not need to form a queue. Hong Kong Government´s Supplementary Labour Scheme, which allows companies to import skills locals do not have has provided badly needed second careers to the soldiers who served the crown.

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