Author: Ewen MacAskill
The UK government has backed down over the fate of more than 150 Afghan interpreters who worked alongside British troops during their hard-fought deployment in Helmand province.
The Home Office bowed to pressure after the interpreters sent a letter of protest after being told they would have to pay £2,389 each to apply for indefinite leave to remain. They had been allowed into the UK initially on a five-year relocation scheme.
The government’s initial decision seems to be one of many examples of the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy to reduce the number of immigrants.
Speaking before a formal announcement by the Home Office, the defence secretary Gavin Williamson signalled the change of heart. He told the BBC: “These are people who have served alongside our armed forces and they have done so much … so we have made it absolutely clear they should be staying in this country.
“We want to do everything we can do to make sure they are able to do that, and we have been in touch with the Home Office making that position clear, and I am quite confident the Home Office will be supporting us and making sure that happens as quickly as possible.”
In the letter, the interpreters wrote: “We took great risk because we believed in the integrity of the British Army, only to be let down by politicians who see us as a number and not as people who have sacrificed more for this country than many of its citizens.
“We implore you to end your shameful and indefensible policy towards interpreters like us who risked everything.”
They said the £2,389 fee was unaffordable for many,, and that some had been denied the right to have their wives and children join them in the UK.
Other were struggling to find funds for a possible fee of £1,200 to secure the documentation necessary for their children born in the UK, they said.
The government agreed initially to allow 390 interpreters who had served in Helmand between December 2011 and December 2012 into the UK.
Retired Col Simon Diggins, who served in Afghanistan, described that agreement as arbitrary in a letter to the Guardian earlier this year, because it excluded about 2,000 who had worked elsewhere in the country, including Kabul.
Among them is a 34-year-old, known as Ricky, the British army’s longest-serving Afghan interpreter. British officers backed him, saying he had risked his life on numerous occasions, even though he had not served in Helmand.