There have been news reports arguing that the UK Government should grant asylum to Afghan staff, especially interpreters, who worked for British forces during military operations in Afghanistan.
Many of the articles say those staff face intimidation and that the Government has effectively abandoned them. Such claims are completely erroneous. It is precisely because of the debt of gratitude we owe to many locally employed Afghan staff, including interpreters, that we have two distinct policies in place under which they may be eligible for relocation to the UK.
Minister for the Armed Forces, Penny Mordaunt, this week expressed her gratitude to local staff for their distinct and pivotal contribution to Afghanistan’s efforts to form a more secure, stable and prosperous future. See here
Below we address some of the specific claims made in the media this week with regard to the Government’s policy, which was agreed by the UK National Security Council (NSC), on assistance and relocation for local Afghan staff.
CLAIM 1: There is no UK policy in place to look after interpreters
FACT: Incorrect. The UK government has two distinct policies in place to ensure that our local Afghan staff, including interpreters, can apply for relocation to the UK.
- Intimidation policy: HMG’s Intimidation Policy assists all current and former local staff members regardless of dates or length of employment, whose safety has been threatened because of their work with us.
Our expert team in Afghanistan thoroughly and professionally investigate all claims of intimidation and their findings are considered on a case-by-case basis by a senior team in Afghanistan, including both civilian and military personnel.
Following investigation of these claims, mitigation measures are put in place depending on the findings; these can range from providing specific security advice to the staff member, to providing assistance to relocate the staff member and their family to a safe place in Afghanistan or, in the most extreme cases, relocation to the UK
- Ex-gratia redundancy policy: Local staff who were/are made redundant as a direct consequence of the UK’s military drawdown in Afghanistan are eligible for the ex-gratia redundancy scheme, provided they meet the criteria of working directly for HMG on 19 December 2012, and have served more than 12 months when they are made redundant.
The ex gratia scheme provides three offers for all eligible staff:
- Financial package of 18 months’ salary available; or
- Generous in-country package up to 5 years of training and financial support available; or
- For those staff who were working on the frontline in Helmand for 12 months or more, the opportunity to apply for relocation to the UK.
CLAIM 2: The UK government has only relocated a handful of interpreters to the UK
FACT: Incorrect. A total of 500 local staff are eligible out of which 150 have already moved to the UK, along with their families bringing the current total to 330.
CLAIM 3: All interpreters who worked with British forces should be allowed to settle in the UK.
FACT: This would rob Afghanistan of some of their best and brightest people. We developed our local staff policies in collaboration with the Afghan government to ensure that their best citizens could contribute to building a brighter future for their country. If the redundancy scheme were extended to all local staff who served over one year, this would add in excess of 1000 staff (plus their families) to those already covered, irrespective of threat.
CLAIM 4: US and Germany evacuated interpreters and allowed them to seek asylum.
FACT: The UK has ensured that local staff who served 12 months in frontline positions can relocate to the UK without having to meet asylum criteria necessary under most other NATO nation schemes.
CLAIM 5: US and German schemes are more generous than the UK policies.
FACT: Not true. UK policies offer a redundancy relocation option that does not require a local staff to prove that they are at risk. The policies of other NATO nations are largely based on asylum criteria.
CLAIM 6: The UK’s arbitrary cut-off date excluded local staff seeking relocation to the UK.
FACT: The intimidation policy, which allows for relocation to the UK is open to all, irrespective of date.
CLAIM 7: The UK does not take intimidation claims seriously
FACT: Wrong. The UK is the only nation with a permanent team of trained investigation officers in country to investigate claims of intimidation. These experts have provided support to over 200 former local staff including bespoke security advice and relocations within Afghanistan.
CLAIM 8: The UK has dismissed all intimidation cases just to prevent relocation to the UK.
FACT: We have not found an intimidation case where the threat is such that we need to relocate the local staff to the UK to make them safe. Individuals have been relocated safely within Afghanistan. Earlier this year HMG commissioned a barrister to conduct an independent review of case decisions. He concluded that the cases were decided correctly. Cases can of course be re-opened where new evidence is provided.
CLAIM 9: Interpreters who served with the UK in Iraq have been granted asylum in the UK.
FACT: Afghanistan is not Iraq. The threat environment in Afghanistan is very different to Iraq, where a number of LECs were killed or seriously injured as a result of intimidation
CLAIM 10: All LECs should be relocated to the UK, as they were from Iraq
FACT: We did not relocate all local staff in Iraq. The scheme in Iraq only covered local staff with an acute security risk.
CLAIM 11: Iraq was less dangerous and deployments were shorter. British officers who served in both conflicts have said the risk and fear of retribution is far worse in Afghanistan.
FACT: This is not true. There is clear evidence that local staff in Iraq were deliberately targeted by a number of faction ‘death squads’, and we know of at least 28 staff killed in Iraq as a result of intimidation. Most claims of intimidation from staff in Afghanistan can be successfully mitigated through provision of security advice and in some cases providing financial support to relocate within Afghanistan.
CLAIM 12: No assistance is offered even when interpreters get threatening phone calls once it is known that they work with the UK military.
FACT: We help all current and former local staff with any concern they may have about intimidation related to their UK employment. Our policy is about selecting the appropriate measure to mitigate the threat.
CLAIM 13: UK should visit Taliban controlled areas to carry out intimidation investigations.
FACT: This would only reveal the former employment of the Afghan staff member thereby putting them at risk. Investigators can get what they need from a range of witnesses by phone or by face-to-face interview. We also have intelligence on the general threat levels in different areas.