Afghanistan

Allow More Afghan Interpreters To Resettle In UK, Ex-Military Chiefs Urge

"Far too many applicants are being rejected" according to a group of military figures, who say they're "gravely concerned" by the situation.

Dozens of former senior military figures have written to the Government, calling for more Afghans who worked alongside British troops in the country to be allowed to resettle in the UK. 

The letter – signed by five former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, two ex-heads of the British Army and one former Royal Navy chief, as well as a former National Security Adviser, senior retired officers, and ex-defence minister Johnny Mercer MP – called on the Government to "act immediately".

The letter's signatories said they "remain gravely concerned about the situation faced by our former interpreters and the supporting staff who stood shoulder to shoulder with us on the battlefield, despite recent initiatives from the Government".

The document comes amid a resurging Taliban in Afghanistan and as the withdrawal of US and NATO forces, including UK personnel, nears completion.

It was announced earlier this month that the British military mission in the country was drawing to a close and a small number of personnel will temporarily remain in Afghanistan to support the transition to a new phase of UK support for the country.

"If any of our former interpreters are murdered by the Taliban in the wake of our withdrawal, the dishonour would lay squarely at our nation's feet," the letter said.

'Far too many applicants are being rejected'

The Government introduced the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) earlier this year and in May, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced it was being accelerated so that hundreds more Afghan interpreters and others who supported the British military during the conflict could settle in the UK.

Watch: Timeline of British forces in Afghanistan. 

Mr Wallace said it was only right to relocate Afghans and their families who were at risk following the announcement of the US and NATO withdrawal from the country. 

More than 3,000 Afghans and their family members were expected to settle in the UK under the plan.

Hashmat Nawabi worked as an interpreter for British forces in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2012 and arrived in the UK in recent weeks.

He said he "couldn’t stop crying" when he found out he and his family were eligible to resettle, but feared he would be attacked when on his way to the airport.

On his flight to the UK, Mr Nawabi said there were between 36-40 Afghan families.

"We all were relieved… it was a very happy moment when we saw each other again in the airport and you all recognise each other from our service.

"We all started thanking the British Government for the help and the opportunity they give us... and to live our remaining life in happiness."

Speaking about the Taliban, he said they are "looking for a reason to harm people and to kill people… especially whoever worked for the coalition forces".

Watch: Former head of the British Army, General The Lord Dannatt, says the UK has a "moral obligation" to look after Afghan interpreters. 

The letter said the ARAP is a "positive step" but is not enough.

"The policy is not being conducted with the necessary spirit of generosity required to protect our former colleagues from an indiscriminate and resurgent Taliban," it said.

"Put simply, far too many applications are being rejected despite the recent changes to the policy.

"Too many of our former interpreters have unnecessarily and unreasonably been rejected from relocation to safety in the UK and we strongly urge that the policy is reviewed again immediately, to ensure more are given sanctuary.

"The current policy discriminates against many interpreters who spent years supporting the UK military in Afghanistan but who were among the 35% of staff dismissed from service for various reasons without any due process or ability to appeal their dismissal."

Watch: Former Afghan interpreter Hashmat Nawabi speaks to Forces News.

The letter went on to urge the Government to amend the policy to allow all former interpreters the chance to live in the UK, "unless it is proven that they have committed such an offence that constitutes a threat to national security".

Simon Diggins, from the Sulha Alliance that campaigns for Afghan interpreters, said: "We took on some 2,500 interpreters between 2001 and 2014, 35% of them were dismissed for disciplinary reasons. 

"The figure is just staggering because it suggests to us that actually dismissal, which should be the absolute last resort for removing somebody, was being used almost casually as an HR tool.

"Whatever happened there and then, does it justify them being excluded now from sanctuary in the United Kingdom? Because the Taliban really don't give a stuff, the Taliban don't care that they were dismissed, all the Taliban care about is that they worked for the British or worked for the Americans.

"Let's look at these individuals again, let's have a fair and transparent system."

As well as interpreters, the letter also raised concerns over locally employed staff, such as cleaners or cooks, who are not currently covered by the ARAP as they are not deemed to have served in an "exposed role".

The document said: "The Taliban make no such distinction about employment of local staff with coalition forces and have already murdered a number of those in these categories."

Watch: Simon Diggins from the Sulha Alliance speaks to Forces News. 

It said locally employed staff should be made eligible for relocation on "a genuine case-by-case basis rather than the broad rejections currently being issued by ARAP".

The letter continued: "Time is of the utmost essence to save the lives of those who served alongside our servicemen and women in Afghanistan and who saved countless British lives."

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: "We owe a huge debt of gratitude to interpreters who risked their lives working alongside UK forces in Afghanistan and the Government has already supported over 2,200 former Afghan staff and their families in creating new lives in the UK.

"Nobody's life should be put at risk because they supported the UK Government to bring peace and stability.

"We are the only nation with a permanent expert team based in Kabul to investigate claims from courageous local staff who are threatened as a result of their work with the UK."