Army's Commonwealth troops face racism, veteran says

Overseas recruits 'treated like second-class citizens' and need more support, claims soldier of 17 years

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David Vitalis said that throughout his career he was subjected to racist jibes
David Vitalis said that throughout his career he was subjected to racist jibes

A Commonwealth veteran has urged recruits to “think twice before joining” the British Army, after he cited a lack of respect and racism at its core.

David Vitalis, who served in the army for 17 years, stood down in February as a Movement Controller in the Royal Logistic Corps. Originally from St Lucia, Mr Vitalis, 42, said he joined the Army as a result of a “massive recruitment drive” carried out across the Caribbean in the early 2000s.

“At the beginning I had a lot of fun,” Mr Vitalis, who now lives in London, told The Daily Telegraph.

“I did see racism, and that’s what I tell anybody: don’t be stupid to think it isn’t there, it is there. It is how you approach it and deal with it.”

Mr Vitalis said that throughout his career, which included tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, he was subjected to racist jibes.

“You had Commonwealth soldiers who were told your accent is too brash, you need to learn how to speak English,” he said. “There is an underlying tone in the British Army that you have run to the UK because life was so hard for you, you can’t really speak English and no one really cares what you say.”

Mr Vitalis claimed that when issues affecting Commonwealth soldiers were highlighted, “the number one line is, ‘if you don’t like it, you can leave … go back to where you came from’.”

If Commonwealth soldiers fell ill, due to a common affliction such as ‘cold injury’, “they would say we were lazy”, he added. “You always find that you had a particular person that would make it like you are too big for your boots. For any Commonwealth soldier; always they were classed as lazy.”

The comments come after the Ministry of Defence was urged by MPs to “urgently resolve” the right to remain for Commonwealth veterans, after a number of former personnel were left in limbo over their immigration status.

Mr Vitalis said Commonwealth soldiers were “seriously treated as second class citizens”.

“It’s like you are the token soldier,” he added. “It makes you think twice to want to encourage anyone to join.”

He cautioned: “The British Army is not racist, what you find is racist people in the British Army.” Any aftercare for Commonwealth veterans, such as the correct procedures for citizenship, was “a lottery”, he said. “They need to be looking after Commonwealth soldiers … they need support.”

An MoD spokesman said: “The Government highly values the service of all members of the Armed Forces, including Commonwealth nationals. We are committed to upholding our obligations … to ensure that no one who is serving, or who has served, or their family members are disadvantaged as a result of their service.”

“Racism has no place in the military and anyone found to be behaving in such a way can expect to be disciplined, discharged or dismissed. We are committed to stamping it out.”