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Afghan interpreters’ resettlement scheme ‘does not go far enough’

Lawyers representing Afghan interpreters have welcomed news of a resettlement scheme but expressed concerns that it does not go far enough.

Under the proposals, any interpreters who have put themselves in physical danger working outside British military bases will be offered resettlement in the UK if they have been working for the British forces for more than 12 months at the point of their redundancy. It is estimated that about half the interpreters working for the UK forces – roughly 600 – will qualify.

Rosa Curling, a human rights solicitor with Leigh Day representing three interpreters who began a legal case against the government, said on Wednesday: “Whilst we await the full details of the scheme, we are delighted that the bravery of the Afghan interpreters now seems to have been recognised.

“These men employed by the British authorities in Afghanistan have often been on the frontline with our troops, risking their lives, and now face death threats as a result of their work. The announcement today is a huge step in the right direction, which will come as a great relief to our clients and their families.”

But she voiced concerns about some of the roughly 600 interpreters who will not qualify for resettlement, either because they do not have 12 months’ continuous service or are deemed not to have faced sufficient physical danger in their daily work.

“We are concerned that some interpreters may not qualify if the scheme is only available to those employed between December 2012 and December 2014 and limited to frontline staff only,” Curling said.

“This would completely undermine the purpose of the policy. This time limit would exclude a large number of interpreters, including our clients. Limiting it to frontline staff would offer no protection to those Kabul-based spokesmen who have received threats due to the high-profile nature of their work and those working for the secret services.

“These interpreters remain at risk from threats from the Taliban, and to refuse them access to the same resettlement options would be unacceptable as it must be available to all who are in danger as a result of their work for the UK. We will be contacting the MoD urgently requesting clarification of what exactly is on offer.”

The package represents a climbdown from earlier suggestions that most interpreters would have to risk reprisals from the Taliban after coalition forces leave a still unstable country at the end of 2014.

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said it would have been “morally unacceptable” to deny the interpreters the option of coming to Britain.

“I have never hidden my own view that the notion that we could somehow turn our backs on the Afghan interpreters who have put their own life and limb at risk for British servicemen and women is morally unacceptable,” he said. “We owe it to them to make sure that where they are under real threat of retribution or intimidation, we look after them.”

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said it was “a welcome about-turn by the prime minister”. She added: “It was not right for the government to leave interpreters and their families to face threats from the Taliban when we leave.”

The change of heart was also welcomed by Dave Garratt, chief executive of Refugee Action. “This move now puts the UK in step with other Nato countries who have granted their interpreters the right to asylum,” he said.

Qualifying interpreters will be offered a five-year visa for themselves and their families, with additional practical help for relocation, accommodation and job-seeking in the UK. If a qualifying interpreter does not want to take up the option of living in the UK, they will be given an alternative five-year training and education package with the Afghan security forces on existing security force salaries. They will also be offered pro-rata rates.

That army package will also be available to interpreters who do not qualify for resettlement in the UK.