Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Afghan interpreters deal a shabby cop-out

Nick Clegg said today that Britain had a ‘moral duty’ to provide resettlement assistance to Afghan interpreters who had put the lives of themselves and their families at risk to work for British forces as they battled against the Taliban.

Less than an hour later, the details of the resettlement deal became apparent and only those who were employed by the British government on December 19, 2012, would be eligible for resettlement to the UK. (Metro link) 

This means that about 600 of the 1,200 who assisted British forces will be excluded from escaping the country, regardless of what current danger they may face.

The deal unveiled in a written statement to the House of Commons - the preferred method to release anything slightly dishonourable – by defence secretary Philip Hammond is not much use to ‘Mohammed’, a 35-year-old man who spent three years working for British forces in Helmand province between 2006 and 2009 and has not left his Kabul home in months due to threats to his life.

My colleague interviewed him last week and he told how his seven-year-old daughter was stopped by a man on a motorcycle who handed her a threat vowing to kill her ‘infidel’ father. ‘Even in the presence of British and US troops we don’t feel safe,’ he told Metro. ‘Next year, when they’re gone, will be much worse. We and our families are all in danger.

‘David Cameron has talked about our safety but all the interpreters are really worried. We feel we’re being abandoned to the Taliban.’

It is known that 21 translators who worked with British forces have been killed since 2001 and Mohammed quit after his friend vanished, kidnapped by the Taliban.

It’s a fine sentiment from Mr Hammond that these clearly capable people should be encouraged to remain in Afghanistan to help rebuild the country after decades of conflict. And where it is possible it should of course be done and the package assembled by the government is pretty generous. But it’s clear in many cases this simply won’t be possible. They will be trapped, threatened by those who will inevitably occupy the power vacuum when Western forces leave, and abandoned by those whom they once served.

By way of comparison, after the Iraq War interpreters were offered far more generous terms. They could either receive one-off financial aid or exceptional indefinite leave to remain in the UK with help to relocate. Or they had the opportunity to resettle through Britain’s Gateway programme, run with the United Nation’s High Commission for Refugees.

Quite why the government is refusing to do its duty by these brave individuals and offer the same terms is unclear. Tim Farron, president of the Liberal democrats, who raised the issue in parliament this morning, told me there is ‘some resistance within the MoD’. He added: ‘They saw this differently to Iraq and wanted a different outcome.’ He has said he will continue pressing the matter.

And the campaign group Avaaz, which has been at the forefront of the interpreter’s campaign, described Hammond’s announcement as ‘half-baked’. Alex Wilks, the campaign director, said: ‘This deal may sound great in London but could be lethal in Kabul.

‘Today’s Afghan proposal remains half-baked and does not offer the escape route that Iraqi translators received.’

But truly, it’s worse than half-baked. It’s a shabby failure by a government which is refusing to live up to its responsibilities.

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