Up to 600 Afghans who have risked their lives to act as interpreters for British troops and officials are to be handed the right to move to Britain.
Interpreters who have regularly served on the frontline will get visas for themselves and their ‘immediate dependents’ to come to Britain for a period of five years.Under a £40 million package being thrashed out in Whitehall, those who come to the UK they will get free travel to the UK and accommodation paid for their first three months.The visas will be offered to around half of the 1,200 interpreters who are currently employed by the Armed Forces and the Foreign Office.
Those eligible will have had to serve for at least 12 months ‘outside the wire’ of security compounds in Helmand province where British troops have been fighting the Taliban.Those who do not qualify for emigration to the UK will be offered the choice of 18 months’ pay as or money for training and education for up to five years if they want to learn a skill or take an IT course.
Interpreters who are no longer employed by Britain will not get a redundancy package but if they feel their lives are in danger they can report threats under the UK’s intimidation policy, which offers relocation to Britain in ‘extreme cases’.The package has been drawn up in Downing Street following warnings that the Taliban could execute interpreters once Western combat forces leave the country by the end of next year.A recent private survey of interpreters who have worked for Britain found that 94 per cent of respondents had received threats since they started working for the British.
Fewer than 3 per cent of interpreters said they will feel safe in Afghanistan when UK forces withdraw.Twenty interpreters have died since 2001 – five were abducted and murdered by insurgents. The US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all granted Afghan interpreters the right to asylum.If all 600 interpreters decide to move to Britain it will cost taxpayers around £30 million.The cost of redundancy payments and training will add another £10 million to the bill.After the Iraq War all locally engaged staff were offered the chance to move to the UK. But No 10 officials say the package this time offers more incentives for them to remain in their own country.
Officials also make the point that many interpreters come from Northern Afghanistan rather than Helmand and will simply return home to communities who do not know that they have been working for Britain.The plan has been approved by David Cameron and officials in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence after meetings of the National Security Council. The details of the plans have now been passed to other ministers across Whitehall for approval.
A No10 source: ‘The Prime Minister has been very clear that we should not turn our backs on those who have trod the same path as our soldiers in Helmand, consistently putting their lives at risk to help our troops achieve their mission.‘We should recognise the service given by those who have regularly put themselves in real danger while working for us.‘These proposals give them a choice: the opportunity to go on working in Afghanistan, learning new skills and to go on rebuilding their country or to come and make a new start in Britain.’