David Davis raises concern that Afghan interpreters most at risk may face exclusion


As reported in The Times:

“The Government was under pressure last night over the small print of proposals to give political asylum to Afghan interpreters after it emerged that many who served during the heaviest fighting of the Helmand campaign will not qualify.

The Foreign Office said the plan to give a redundancy package including the right to asylum to Afghan interpreters applied only to those serving after December 2012.

Those who left service before that date would not qualify, even if they did so because of Taleban intimidation. The offer is also limited to those with 12 months frontline service alongside the army.

Najibullah served 18 months in Helmand before leaving due to Taleban threats in September last year.

“I quit the job because of the threat of the insurgents not because I didn’t want to keep working, helping British forces in Afghanistan,” he said yesterday.

“My life is still in danger. I am still hiding from insurgents. I can’t go outside the secure areas of the city. I can’t live like this forever.”

Hashmat Nawabi, who served for five years in Helmand before leaving British service in August, 2012, due to Taleban threats, said he was horrified to find he was excluded.

“I worked for five years in the hardest fighting. I thought if things go wrong these people will look after me. I never intended to come to Europe and now I lost everything” he said.

Mr Nawabi fled Afghanistan after initially attempting to carry on living in the country in December and is currently in a refugee camp in Germany.

“The news they are helping interpreters is fantastic but what can I say? I am just being forgotten,” he added.

The former Foreign Minister David Davis said the government proposals appeared to exclude deserving candidates, “particularly those interpreters who have had their lives threatened and as a result ceased being interpreters before the cut off date”.

He said: “I cannot believe that this exclusion was deliberate and I call on the Government to correct this error as soon as possible.”

He added: “There is a practical point to this. The next time we go into an expeditionary war and we don’t have interpreters or anyone else we might need, they will take one look at way we treated the Afghan interpreters and we won’t get any help.”

Lord Ashdown praised the government asylum offer but said that the rules were too narrow. “It is to diminish an act of honour with a miserliness that is regrettable and unnecessary,” he said.

The Times understands that an exception will be made only for those interpreters who were forced to leave British service because of serious injury in combat.

The government offer of asylum follows similar offers to interpreters by the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is understood to have pushed for a more generous offer after initial suggestions that interpreters would receive a financial package.

Government officials said that the Afghan President Hamid Karzai argued against an asylum offer. A senior source said at the time: “What sort of message would it send if these people were bundled into the back of a Chinook and flown out of the country? It would say we don’t think there’s a future.”

The Times has supported the case for the interpreters, more than 20 of whom have been killed, dozens wounded in action and at least five murdered while on leave.

The Taleban carried out assassinations of 698 alleged government sympathisers last year, according to UN figures, 108 per cent more than the previous year.

A Taleban spokesman said that interpreters would face “Taleban courts” if caught. “They are the enemy, working for the enemy,” said Zabiullah Mujahid.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said last night that those excluded from the asylum offer could still appeal under a separate intimidation policy, which would be open to former interpreters. “We understand that many staff are concerned about their safety and that of their families,” said an FCO spokesperson. “We already have a separate mechanism in place for investigating threats to our staff and former staff – the PM has spoken recently about the importance of supporting them with a fair system. In the most extreme cases our “intimidation policy’ allows for relocation to the UK and this will remain in place.””


As reported in The Guardian:

“The government was accused of taking an overly bureaucratic approach after a series of loopholes were identified in the government scheme to allow about 600 Afghan interpreters to be given five-year British visas.

David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, challenged Downing Street to prove that Britain was honouring its debt to those who have served the state after restrictions were placed by the government on the interpreters.

The Times, which has been campaigning on behalf of Afghan interpreters, reported that the scheme will be open to those who have served with British forces on the frontline for more than 12 months.

Downing Street denied reports that the scheme would apply only to interpreters who are made redundant this year as troops leave Afghanistan. But a source made clear that it would be open only to interpreters who lose their jobs as a result of the withdrawal of troops.

Davis demanded that the scheme should also apply to interpreters who have had to leave the military as a result of Taliban intimidation and those who have had to stand down after being wounded.

Davis said: “There is a simple test because of our debt of honour. Did the individual concerned act as a servant of the British state and is he or his family at risk? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, we have a debt and we should be generous. We cannot have a bureaucratic response.”

A former Afghan interpreter, who came to Britain after his initial application was rejected, was highly critical of the government. The man, who was severely injured in a bombing which killed a British officer and who gave his name as Mohammed, told the PM programme on Radio 4: “The government is not being fair to the Afghan interpreters – those interpreters who have served this country, those interpreters who have helped the British forces in Afghanistan, those interpreters who have saved the lives of the British forces in Afghanistan. The government is turning their back [on] them and their families.”

Lord Dannatt, the former head of the army, said the government needed to do more. He told PM: “We can’t do what we have to do without those interpreters. Mohammed trod the same path that our soldiers trod, that is what the prime minister said, and he took a fierce blow to his body when he was blown up. So he shared the risks. If he shared the risks, we have a huge moral obligation to stand by these people. Yes, I know there are worries about immigration, worries about costs. Those are things we are all aware of. But we have an overriding moral obligation to these people who stood beside us, helped us do what we had to do. We ought to be generous in allowing them to come here for their own safety. Probably not open the floodgates to absolutely everybody – things should be looked at on a case-by-case basis – but with the absolute predisposition to be generous and to say yes when there is any case of threat or danger to them or their immediate family.””


As reported in The Hull Daily Mail;

“The MP for Haltemprice and Howden has backed government plans to offer asylum to interpreters who have helped British forces. Yesterday, it was announced Afghan interpreters who worked with troops will be granted asylum in the UK.

But MP David Davis says those who ceased interpreting because their lives were threatened should also be included.

He said: “While I strongly welcome the decision to allow Afghans who have been interpreters of the British forces to seek asylum in the UK, the detailed rules proposed seem to exclude some of the interpreters who are most at risk of retaliation against them and their families from the Taliban.”

He said the new ruling by the Government did not cover those interpreters who had given up their work before the cut-off date after being threatened. “I cannot believe this exclusion was deliberate and I call on the Government to correct this error as soon as possible,” he said.

Mr Davis is a Conservative MP and was previously Minister of State at the Foreign Office.”