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"Dangerously exposed" Afghan interpreters should come to UK, say Committee

26 May 2018

The Government's scheme to safeguard Afghan interpreters threatened with reprisals for working with the British Army “has dismally failed to give any meaningful assurance of protection” from the Taliban, according to the Defence Committee. Its report, Lost in Translation? Afghan Interpreters and Other Locally Employed Civilians, published today, calls for a more sympathetic approach to Afghan personnel seeking relocation to the UK after serving in frontline roles.

During the United Kingdom's involvement in Afghanistan, British forces were supported by some 7,000 locally employed civilians (LECs), about half of whom fulfilled vital roles as interpreters. Serving alongside – and for – the British military, Afghan interpreters and other LECs were often exposed to extremely dangerous situations. The Government has stated that the UK owes these individuals a ‘debt of gratitude'.

Two contrasting schemes

Two Schemes were set up for LECs who served with the UK NATO contingents in Afghanistan. The ‘Redundancy Scheme' – while not without its critics – has been relatively generous: as well as providing financial support within Afghanistan for former employees who lost their jobs, this Scheme has enabled some 1,150 LECs and dependents to settle in the UK. By contrast, the ‘Intimidation Scheme' has, in its current form, failed to bring even one person into this country. Indeed, it "appears to go to considerable lengths to preclude the relocation to the UK of interpreters and other locally employed civilians who have reported threats and intimidation".

The Committee concludes that it is "impossible to reconcile the generous [relocation] provisions of the Redundancy Scheme … with an Intimidation Scheme that has not admitted anyone at all" to the United Kingdom:

"Given our Government's own stark assessment of the perilous Afghan security situation, the idea that no interpreters or other former LECs have faced threats and intimidation warranting their relocation to the UK is totally implausible."

This incompatibility of outcomes leads the Committee to question whether the Afghan Government – which has played an important role in shaping the Scheme – is simply unwilling to admit that the country is too dangerous to guarantee the safety of former interpreters and other locally employed civilians.

New approach required

The Committee recommends a more sympathetic approach and a looser application of the Intimidation Scheme.  This should include the Government abandoning its "relocation only in extremis" policy, in favour of a more needs-based approach to those facing intimidation for sharing frontline dangers with British troops between 2001 and the 2014 drawdown.

Chair's comments

Chairman of the Defence Committee, Dr Julian Lewis MP, commented:

"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."

Further information

Image: iStockphoto