YALDA HAKIM for BBC NEWS, 16 May 2023
NAWAL AL-MAGHAFI for NEWSNIGHT, 16 May 2023
One linguist who came to the UK under the ex-gratia resettlement scheme for locally employed civilians (LECs) from Afghanistan told the Sulha Alliance that he could not find work because he did not have qualifications from the UK.
“That’s why I ended up in a warehouse. And I’m the person who can speak six languages, but the talent, the skills, and the knowledge [are] all wasted up here.”
Another former interpreter supported by the organisation, which campaigns for Afghans who were interpreters for the British Armed Forces, described his first three months in the UK as “the worst three months of my life”.
Dr Sara de Jong, political scientist and co-founder of the Sulha Alliance, which advocates on behalf of Afghan interpreters, told The Independent the figure provided by Mr Cleverly should be taken with “a pinch of salt”, as the government only counts those who were called forward to the airport for evacuation, but couldn’t make it out on time, and not the “many others” whose applications are or were still in process.
"'Ministers have quietly made it much harder for Afghans who worked alongside us to enter the UK,' said Dan Jarvis, Labour MP and former paratrooper.
Sara de Jong of the Sulha Alliance, which campaigns for interpreters, said ARAP applicants would now suffer twice: from the backlog and the change in rules.
The Mail's award-winning Betrayal of the Brave campaign has highlighted the cases of dozens of former military translators and Afghans who worked for the UK but were not airlifted out.
"There are a significant number of individuals who are entitled to our protection, who should have been evacuated, who weren’t evacuated and who need to be evacuated,"
Simon [Diggins, Sulha Alliance Co-Founder] adds that the Sulha Alliance treads an interesting line of being prepared to challenge the government, but at the same time works constructively to bring improvements into place. “We want the community to thrive,” he says, “and that means working really hard in terms of education opportunities, not just for the interpreters but particularly for their families, their wives and children.
One former officer, Colonel Simon Diggins [co-founder of the Sulha Alliance], also warned there was a danger of radicalisation if people are left waiting for too long and promises of a "warm welcome" are broken.
He said rescuing families from the Taliban was only part of the government's job. "We need to get them to a place where they can start to settle, where they can start to not just survive, but thrive," he told Sky News.
"Let them live their best lives in this country. Let's show the best of this country to them. We're not seeing that at the moment."
[W]hile Wallace and Patel spoke this month of their “huge debt of gratitude” to interpreters and other Afghan partners, networks such as the Sulha Alliance point out that many thousands of eligible evacuees are still missing from official government figures, with days or even hours left to close the gap.
Advocacy and legal groups are still reporting countless cases of interpreters being (wrongly) told they are not eligible because they were sub-contractors, or were fired for minor administrative breaches, or because they are deemed a “security risk” – despite having already passed vetting to work with British soldiers on the battlefield, many risking their lives for years.
Christian Nelleman, head of the group providing intelligence to the UN, said that a Taliban door-to-door hunt was under way for people on their wanted list and warned it could lead to mass executions.
He said: 'They have lists of individuals and even within the very first hours of moving into Kabul they began a search of former government employees – especially in intelligence services and the special forces units.
Ed Aitken, a founding member of the Sulha Alliance, which campaigns for the rights of interpreters, warned: 'These brave and deserving men cannot be left behind.'
The United States’ own evacuation mission, Allies Refuge, was launched in early July and in contrast to the British approach accepted that those claiming sanctuary would have to be evacuated before their applications could be processed.
The UK missed this opportunity. As late as last Saturday, the Sulha Alliance campaign to resettle Afghan interpreters (of which I am a co-founder) was still in detailed conversations with MoD officials about Afghan nationals who were being denied protection. As an example, one individual, [...] who had worked for us for years had his visa revoked, allegedly for having links to the Taliban.
Afghanistan is a country where it is normal for there to be only two degrees of separation between most of the population, so most people will have some ‘links’ to the group. But putting this to one side, his alleged offences have not been explained to him [...], nor is there any opportunity to appeal.
Then there are the 1,010 translators who had their contracts ‘terminated’ without right of appeal. No fired translator was considered for relocation even if they claimed they were Taliban targets.
But under pressure from the Mail and the Sulha Alliance, which helps Afghan workers for the UK, Mr Wallace — a former soldier who has done more to enable Afghans to relocate than any of his predecessors — recently relaxed the policy so those dismissed for ‘minor offences’ qualify.
His family have bravely and loyally overseen security at the British Embassy in Kabul for 70 years. Mohammad followed in the footsteps of his father and brothers in becoming a guard, security supervisor and translator over the two decades [...].
Mohammad was told his case was rejected because he was no longer directly employed by the British Government but via a subcontractor. He had been directly employed between 2001 and 2004, but when the UK moved its embassy, he and his colleagues were subcontracted, meaning they fell outside the relocations policy.
Mohammad's case has been taken up by the Sulha Alliance, which campaigns for translators and other Afghan workers. Founding member Sara de Jong said: 'How can the Government deny Mohammad our protection through relocation to the UK? This demonstrates a major flaw in the Afghan relocation policy.'
The plight of those employed through subcontractors was one of the issues in the letter to Boris Johnson, which warned that Britain faces 'dishonour' if those who served are left to be murdered by the Taliban. It was coordinated by the Sulha Alliance, campaigning for translators and other Afghan workers.
Founding member Sara de Jong said: 'We were dismayed to find out that the long-serving British embassy interpreters are excluded from the resettlement scheme, because they are subcontracted.
'Not only do they work on behalf of the British state, they are extremely exposed as their job requires them to move outside the gates of the embassy compound. The compelling case of the embassy interpreters illustrates the wider structural injustices that result from the UK Government trying to absolve itself of responsibility for its Afghan staff by using third party contractors.'
Simon Diggins, from the Sulha Alliance that campaigns for Afghan interpreters, said: "We took on some 2,500 interpreters between 2001 and 2014, 35% of them were dismissed for disciplinary reasons. The figure is just staggering because it suggests to us that actually dismissal, which should be the absolute last resort for removing somebody, was being used almost casually as an HR tool.
"Whatever happened there and then, does it justify them being excluded now from sanctuary in the United Kingdom? Because [...] the Taliban don't care that they were dismissed, all the Taliban care about is that they worked for the British or worked for the Americans. Let’s look at these individuals again, let's have a fair and transparent system."
More than 40 military chiefs today urge Boris Johnson to speed up the relocation of interpreters from Afghanistan.
The officers, including former Army chief Lord Dannatt and former special forces leader Brigadier Ed Butler, argue the criteria should be less onerous. Meeting all the criteria can be impossible because of missing paperwork. The British embassy in Kabul, which administers the ARAP, is short staffed, leading to delays and clerical errors when dealing with the huge caseload.
The Sulha Alliance, which campaigns for the former interpreters [...] has details of 450 cases refused under ARAP because they were terminated, did not work in an 'exposed' role or were not directly employed by the UK government. The Daily Mail is aware of additional cases.
Dozens of former military commanders have called on the government to allow more Afghans who worked for British forces to resettle in the UK.
Those who have signed the letter include four former chiefs of the defence staff, Lord Boyce, Lord Stirrup, Lord Richards and Lord Houghton; two former heads of the British Army, Sir Peter Wall and Lord Dannatt; Lord Ricketts, the former national security advisor, and former Defence Minister Johnny Mercer, who served as a soldier in Helmand.
The Sulha Alliance, which is campaigning for the rights of former Afghan interpreters [...] claims the government only expects to relocate a maximum of 800 interpreters and their families under the ARAP scheme.It says that number is less than a third of the 3,000 interpreters who worked for the UK. Nor does it include other locally hired staff who were not in an "exposed role", such as cooks and gardeners.
Former local staff to British forces recently held a protest in Kabul, urging the UK Government to evacuate them.
S. was an interpreter for them, but because he was dismissed his application for resettlement was rejected. He said the same happened to dozens of others: "We kindly request the UK Government to help us. The Taliban will not look at our termination, they will kill us."
Sara de Jong: "The NATO came to Afghanistan [...] promising human rights. Quite a few of the people that I interviewed wonder where their human rights are.
Sara de Jong, of the Sulha Alliance which has campaigned for translators, said: ‘For the handful of resettled interpreters who were engaged according to cultural custom, but who couldn’t marry officially before coming to safety in the UK, we need a generous arrangement to bring their wives to the UK.
The inability to protect their families back in Afghanistan takes a psychological toll on the interpreters. With the Taliban gaining in strength every day, and little time left till the US and Nato withdraw, these families should be urgently reunited, to protect wives and children against revenge from insurgents.’
The wives of Afghan former translators have begun legal action against the Government to allow them to join their husbands in Britain. A dozen women fear being left to face Taliban revenge attacks – with UK and US forces due to pull out from Afghanistan by September 11.
Their husbands, who were interpreters for the UK military, were engaged to wed them when they were granted sanctuary in Britain. Now lawyers for the women told the Home Office they will seek a judicial review of the decision, highlighting the risk they face from the Taliban and their denial of the right to a family life.
The Sulha Alliance for the interpreters said: 'These families should be urgently reunited to protect wives and children against revenge.'
Dr Sara de Jong, senior lecturer in politics at the University of York, works with the Sulha Alliance on behalf of Afghan interpreters and their families.
Stating any local staff - not just interpreters - can be at risk, she gave the example of Abdul Basir, a former employee of the French Army who was denied repatriation to France three times and last month was assassinated.
"I am sorry to hear Jamal is facing these issues with his father's relocation,” she said. “His father should be recognised as at risk because of his work as a labourer. Also, Iraqi interpreters were actually allowed to bring extended family.”
Dr. Sara de Jong, one of the [Sulha Alliance]'s founding members, said too many LECs have "fallen through the cracks of the relocation policy. The fact that the government failed to have an appropriate policy in place earlier cannot be a reason to exclude [those who have now fled to third countries]".
"We also need to ensure that [former Afghan Locally Engaged Civilians] can build up a meaningful life [once they are relocated]. It's not just about staying alive. It's about the right to a life."
Dr Sara de Jong, political scientist at the University of York and co-founder of the Sulha Network: "Afghanistan is of course a very unsafe country for many people, but this is a group of people who is specifically targetted because of their employment history.
"There has always been a broad consensus among the British public, wherever you are on the political spectrum that [relocation Afghan interpreters] is the right thing to do.
Example of coverage in the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and Dutch newspaper Trouw of Sulha Alliance's joint international letter to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Heads of State and Governments in the US, Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, France and Italy.
"Without a coordinated effort to guarantee the protection of the Afghan local staff that supported its partner nations, NATO risks betraying its own promise that the “drawdown will be orderly, coordinated, and deliberate”.
Ed Aitken, a former British Army officer and the co-founder of the Sulha Alliance, which is supporting former interpreters, welcomed the pledge to speed up the application process.
Mr Aitken said: ‘The announcement is good news, although there are still gaps with those who are eligible for support, most notably interpreters who were terminated. ‘There is some concession for those who were terminated for the most minor offences but the bar is still set very low for exclusion from the scheme, particularly when you compare it to the bar for exclusion for those seeking asylum, which is set very high. The question that needs to be asked is, does the alleged offence really justify the death sentence that exclusion from the scheme would certainly result in?’
Retired Colonel Simon Diggins, the former British attaché in Kabul and now a campaigner for the Sulha Alliance said he welcomed the acceleration of relocations saying it showed “goodwill and a positive attitude of officials and senior ministers”.
However, he was critical of a continued lack of clarity for translators who were dismissed from the British Army and may be denied relocation as a result. Diggins also questioned whether logistics would allow so many to be relocated in so little time.
“I am really not sure how they are going to make it work with all those numbers. I really hope they can. But the numbers are huge and do they really have the resources to deliver that?” he asked.
Veteran Army officer Ed Aitken, founder of the Sulha Alliance campaign group, said he was “pleased” about the scheme but warned that there was a “low” bar for rejecting those who previously risked their lives to support British troops.
“We are pleased with where we are but there are concerns there are some glaring gaps where there are going to be parts of this community who are left vulnerable and won’t be included under this policy,” Mr Aitken, who undertook two tours of Helmand Province, told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
Afghan interpreters face a “ghastly betrayal” if they are left behind when British forces withdraw this year, a former defence attaché to Kabul said.
Colonel Simon Diggins said the interpreters were “really scared” by the planned pullout by September 11 and urged ministers to let more of them into Britain.
Peter Gordon-Finlayson, former Army captain and founding member of the Sulha Alliance, which campaigns for interpreters, said: 'The Sulha Alliance is delighted that the Government recognises Nesar's qualification for relocation to the UK. He is truly a worthy recipient of UK support.'
"Hundreds of Afghans whose lives are at risk from the Taliban because they helped the UK will be allowed to come to Britain under a new Government scheme. [...]
The scheme is the latest twist in the controversy over the fate of locals who helped British forces and it represents another victory for this paper's Betrayal of the Brave campaign highlighting the issue.
The Government believes hundreds of Afghan staff and their families could be brought to the UK.
The scheme will offer relocation to current and ex-employees such as embassy support staff, those in political or counter-terrorism roles, or cultural advisers. It will also give hope to interpreters who have been unable to come to the UK under a separate relocation scheme where they had to be working in Helmand for 12 months and then made redundant or quit.
Interpreters in the public eye – pictured with politicians or on TV, for example – could now be allowed into Britain on the basis that their lives could be at risk. Those 'terminated' from their position with the British Army could also be allowed in if they can provide fresh evidence that their lives are in immediate danger.
Defence sources said they will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, with those terminated for less serious reasons more likely to be allowed into the UK."
Major Ed Aitken, who served in Helmand, said on the alliance's behalf: 'It is a deeply institutional injustice that is a reflection of those who make the policies back in London.'
Colonel Simon Diggins, a founder member of the Sulha Alliance, discussed the potential issues raised by President Trump's recent announcements on withdrawing US forces on British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS).
His overall conclusion is that, without backfilling of the withdrawing US forces, UK forces will inevitably have to become more focused on their own Force Protection and security and less on the operational mission, supporting the training and development of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). At some point, the whole mission may become untenable.
More broadly, a precipitate collapse of the NATO Mission will be extremely harmful to overall security, including the morale of ANSF. This will create an opportunity for the Taliban and IS to exploit, further endangering the security and lives of our former interpreters.
'I call on the British government to grant sanctuary to all our former interpreters ... We must make good our debt of honour to these brave men and women.'
The campaign for justice for our former interpreters has attracted widespread support from right across the political and media spectrum; the award winning Daily Mail's 'Betrayal of the Brave' campaign, in particular, has often foregrounded the issue in a way that politicians cannot ignore. We wish to acknowledge the determined and principled engagement of many journalists, but especially Larisa Brown and David Williams.