UK

'Afghan Interpreters Are Being Abandoned By Britain' Say Sir Mike Jackson And Lord Ashdown

06/04/2013 14:56 BST

Britain has a "moral obligation" to help Afghan interpreters who are in danger of being abandoned and left at the mercy of the Taliban, a number of key figures have said.

In an open letter, the high-profile names, including former Chief of the General Staff Sir Mike Jackson and Lord Ashdown, said it is shameful that Britain is the only Nato country yet to provide Afghan interpreters with asylum.

Published in the Times newspaper, it said the current system of dealing with asylum claims by Afghans on a case-by-case basis is "slow, not transparent and offers no guarantee of success".

The letter is also signed by Michael Clarke, director of defence think-tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI); former Army officer Patrick Hennessy, author of The Junior Officer's Reading Club; and veteran Jake Wood, who wrote Among You: The Extraordinary True Story Of A Soldier Broken By War.

It said: "Afghan interpreters who've stood shoulder to shoulder with our Armed Forces in Afghanistan are now in danger of being abandoned by Britain.

"The British military's job in Afghanistan would have been impossible without local interpreters, who have risked their lives and made extraordinary sacrifices just like British soldiers."

They said around 20 were killed in action, five were killed while off duty, and dozens of others had been injured. And with the withdrawal of UK troops, many are left in fear of Taliban reprisals, they said.

The letter follows a swelling campaign over rights for Afghan interpreters and their families to settle in Britain.

A petition launched by one interpreter has already gathered more than 60,000 signatures, and the cause has been taken up by campaign group Avaaz.

The man, known only as Abdul to protect his identity, is in hiding in Afghanistan after he and his family were threatened by the Taliban because of the work he did for the British forces.

Last month Avaaz campaign director Alex Wilks accused Britain of leaving interpreters behind to be "hunted down by the Taliban".

Leigh Day Solicitors, acting for Abdul, have already written to the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence asking for the "targeted assistance scheme", which the Government provided to Iraqi interpreters employed by the British forces in Iraq, to be extended to Afghans who did the same thing in Afghanistan.

The scheme allows qualifying staff the right either to resettle in Britain or a one-off financial payment.

Last month peers clashed over the issue as the government came under fire from ex-services chiefs, including former First Sea Lord and Labour peer Admiral Lord West of Spithead and former Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Lord Stirrup.

Today's letter in the Times says: "After the Iraq war, the UK gave Iraqi interpreters asylum in this country, but - shamefully - Britain is the only Nato country yet to do this for Afghan interpreters.

"Nearly 60,000 Britons have raised their concerns, backing the Avaaz campaign urging British Foreign Secretary William Hague to immediately grant them asylum."

It goes on: "Unlike the Iraqi interpreters, asylum claims by Afghans are currently treated on a case-by-case basis: this process is slow, not transparent and offers no guarantee of success.

"The Ministry of Defence's argument against an Iraqi-style scheme has been that it was 'expensive, complex to administer and took little account of any individual need for protection'.

"Our argument is that Britain has a moral obligation to support this small number of brave men who put themselves in grave danger so that British soldiers could do their jobs."