Afghan Interpreters: Labour's Jim Murphy Backs Calls To Extend Resettlement Scheme

Britain is turning its back on Afghan translators who put their lives on the line, shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said, as a petition of tens of thousands of names is set to be delivered to Downing Street.

Labour has backed a settlement scheme for Afghan interpretors who worked with British troops, who could be in danger when forces pull out next year.

The great-grandson of Winston Churchill, Alex Perkins, who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan as a captain in the Scots Guards, will deliver the 55,000 signatures on the petition to Downing Street on Wednesday demanding urgent action from David Cameron to protect the Afghan interpreters who he says will be “sent to their deaths” without support or resettlement.

Jim Murphy has backed the call to extend the rights for Afghan translators to settle in the UK

“There are Afghans who put their lives on the line to support British operations in Afghanistan and we shouldn't turn our backs on them now," Murphy told HuffPost UK.

“The Government should offer a settlement scheme for Afghan interpreters who helped British troops and who may now face threats from the Taliban once the troops pull out.”

In June the Government announced a support package for interpreters that served in 2012 but said no support or resettlement options would be given to interpreters who completed their duties between 2006 and 2011.

Up to 600 Afghan interpreters who worked alongside British troops do currently have the right to live in the UK, if they worked between 2012 and 2014.

Others, if they believe their lives to be in danger, can apply for asylum in the UK through the regular channels, the Ministry of Defence pointed out.

A five-year visa is available to those who worked on the front line for a year or more, or their salary can be paid for an additional 18-months after troops leave, if they stay in Afghanistan.

After the Iraq war, Britain gave Iraqi interpreters either one-off financial assistance or exceptional indefinite leave to remain in the UK with help to relocate, or the opportunity to resettle through the UK's Gateway programme run in partnership with the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees.

"My great-grandfather Winston Churchill, who spent a large part of his career in the army, would have been shocked by the way our government is treating men who risked their lives to help British forces. My colleagues and I, fought, sweat, bled and killed for this country and asked for nothing as a result," Perkins said.

"We have to set the precedent now, or we may not find locals willing to step up and help us, if this policy is not changed, and some of the translators end up killed along with their families."

Perkins said he formed very close bonds with his translator, Barry, who has been given asylum in Germany. "As a young officer, your interpreter is your crutch, he is there next to you throughout everything. He asked me for help, when I left, and when we got it for him, I realised how many more cases there are, and I don't want to leave these guys out there."

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

His translator, Baryalai Shams, fled after his father and brother were killed in a Taliban attack, arriving in Germany on a fake passport. He was granted asylum this month, but only after spending two years in immigration detention centre.

But some senior military figures do have concerns about a possible blanket resettlement offer.

Amyas Godfrey, associate fellow at RUSI who completed two tours of Iraq, said the dilemma over resettlement for interpreters had never really been a consideration before.

"In Bosnia, our interpreters were invaluable, but they are not now at risk, therefore a universal [ruling] that anyone who ever helped British troops should get resettlement I don't think would be universally supported."

Godfrey said there were "shades of grey" when it came to interpreters, especially in the early years, and a huge range in quality and seniority.

"Some play a delicate game, a very small proportion, and supply information to insurgents as well, for money. Sometimes their English is not as good as they made out.

"The best were the really sought-after Afghans who studied abroad, who worked with special forces. They take enormous risks, their own safety and their families.

"But we relied on so many, over such a long period of time. It is an awkward position to be in, because if it goes through, every person, who did any interpreting, will apply since 2002. That will be a nightmare to try and figure out, the casual workers who might have done cash-in-hand in the first years.

"It is hard to agree that, across the board, every single interpreter should get the right to live in Britain."

The translators he worked with, Godfrey said, did not expect to gain asylum in Britain. "They take enormous risks, their own safety and their families. They are not under any illusion though, that they may get to come to Britain. In my own experience, there was no question they would come back to the UK.

"They did it for money, if you could speak English well, you could earn a lot of money in a war-torn, impoverished country. But also amongst some of them they really did think they were hoping to improve their country, as opposed to Saadam or the Taliban."

A Government spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “The Prime Minister has been very clear that we should not turn our backs on our local staff in Afghanistan. The British Government’s pre-existing intimidation policy ensures that any local employees who have worked for the British government regardless of date and duration are offered a range of protection measures depending on the seriousness of any threat they face on account of their work for us, including in extreme cases the option of relocation to the UK.

“In addition to this we have offered a comprehensive redundancy package to staff who were in post on or after 19 December 2012, because this was the date the Prime Minister announced the drawdown of UK forces and, consequently, the process of making large numbers of local staff redundant began.

"Seriously injured staff, who might have qualified had their employment not been terminated before this due to injuries sustained in combat, are also included.”