22/05/2013 03:49 BST | Updated 22/05/2013 03:55 BST

Afghan Interpreters Allowed To Settle In Britain, In Coalition U-Turn

Around 600 Afghan interpreters are to be offered the chance to settle in Britain after an apparent coalition rethink.

About half the staff working with UK forces are expected to be granted visas in recognition of risks to their personal safety.

The proposals could see all interpreters who have been in the job more than 12 months and put themselves in physical danger offered a resettlement package.

A British soldier and his interpreter talk with an Afghan actor playing the part of a villager during a training exercise

They will need to have worked between December 2012 and December 2014, when troops are due to leave, to be eligible.

It is estimated that about half the interpreters - roughly 600 - will qualify for resettlement in the UK.

They could be offered a five-year visa for themselves and their family, with help relocating and finding accommodation and work in the UK.

Interpreters who do not meet the criteria - potentially due to lack of continuous service or low personal risk - would be given a five-year training and education package with the Afghan security forces on existing security force salaries.

The move comes despite David Cameron previously suggesting most Afghan interpreters should stay on in their country to help rebuild it after years of conflict.

But Liberal Democrats pushed for a similar approach to that taken with Iraqi interpreters.

Lawyers representing Afghan interpreters welcomed the news, but said said there were still concerns.

Rosa Curling, a human rights solicitor representing two interpreters, said her clients were "delighted" by the news reported in Wednesday's Times newspaper.

"We're obviously delighted, although we haven't seen any of the details yet. The first we heard of it was on the front page of The Times," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It seems to be very good news indeed. It's obviously taken the Government about five months to make this decision, but we're very pleased they have made it now."

Curling voiced concerns that two key groups seemed to have been excluded by the Government's offer: Kabul-based spokesmen, "who have received death threats because of the high-risk nature of their work", and interpreters working for MI6, the Secret Intelligent Service.

The lawyer said the deal presented the interpreters with "choice".

"What's good about this scheme is it gives our clients and other interpreters a choice," she said.

According to reports, they will be able to choose from a one-off lump sum for those who wish to remain in Afghanistan or settle somewhere nearby, or they will be given the right to a new life in Britain.

Curling said the "bravery and the risks" the men had taken appeared to have been recognised finally.

Dave Garratt, chief executive of Refugee Action, said: "We welcome today's decision to offer protection to Afghan interpreters who put their lives on the line to support the British forces.

"This move now puts the UK in step with other Nato countries who have granted their interpreters the right to asylum."

He also called for a "fully funded support programme to aid the relocation, resettlement and successful integration of Afghan interpreters and their immediate family members in the UK".