Afghan interpreters working for UK army ‘failed’ by government

Britain must abandon policy of leaving ex-staff dangerously exposed, says Commons report

The government has “dismally failed” to protect Afghans who worked as interpreters for the British army and are now at risk from the Taliban and Islamic State, according to a Commons defence select committee report.

The study criticises the Home Office and Ministry of Defence for not fulfilling obligations towards thousands of Afghans who worked for British forces, many of them on the frontline.

The Conservative-led committee says the interpreters were often exposed to extremely dangerous situations.

“There is a broad consensus that the UK owes them a great debt of gratitude,” the report, Lost in Translation? Afghan Interpreters and Other Locally Employed Civilians, says.

“The government must abandon its policy of leaving former interpreters and other loyal personnel dangerously exposed.”

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, bowed to pressure this month over 150 interpreters seeking indefinite leave to remain in the UK, including waiving a £2,389 application fee.

There have been no such concessions for many others who have made it to the UK or who are still in Afghanistan where they are targeted by the Taliban or Isis.

British forces in Afghanistan employed 7,000 Afghan civilians, of whom about half were interpreters. The government set up two schemes. One offered relocation to the UK but is largely restricted to those who had served in Helmand province, scene of some of the toughest fighting in Afghanistan, between specific dates, December 2011 and December 2012. About 1,150, including dependents, have settled in the UK.

The other scheme, known as the intimidation scheme, is open to all 7,000 civilians but aimed at relocating them within Afghanistan if they faced threats from the Taliban or Islamic State and, only as a last resort, offering a place in the UK.

According to the report, not a single Afghan has been relocated as part of the intimidation scheme. The committee describes it as an “utter failure”.

Supporters of the interpreters, including former British officers, express concern the interpreters may be victims of the Home Office drive to reduce immigration. The interpreters have the backing of senior former and serving officers who say there is ample evidence they are facing intimidation in their home provinces.

The committee says the intimidation scheme “has dismally failed to give any meaningful assurance of protection”. It says the perception of the scheme is as unfair and miserly and that will persist until it “offers a genuine prospect that, when individuals face serious and verifiable threats to their lives, as a result of having helped UK armed forces, they will be allowed to come to the UK”.

A more sympathetic approach and looser application of the intimidation scheme has been recommended by the committee.

The chair, Julian Lewis, said: “This is not only a matter of honour. How we treat our former interpreters and local employees, many of whom served with great bravery, will send a message to the people we would want to employ in future military campaigns – about whether we can be trusted to protect them from revenge and reprisals at the hands of our enemies.”

Simon Diggins, a retired colonel who served in Afghanistan and who has been campaigning on behalf of the interpreters, commended the Home Office for the concessions made to the 150 this month.

He said what remained to be done, however, was to give the other 2,000, faced with the risk of intimidation or murder and the vagaries of the asylum system, the opportunity to relocate to the UK.

Contributor

Ewen MacAskill Defence correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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