More Afghan interpreters eligible to settle in UK after rule change

By Jonathan Beale
Defence correspondent, BBC News

Image caption,
Dost is one of many Afghan interpreters who did not qualify for resettlement in the UK under the original scheme, but would now

Dozens more Afghan interpreters who worked with British forces in Afghanistan will be eligible to settle in the UK following a government decision to expand a relocation scheme.

About 450 interpreters moved to the UK with their families under the original scheme, announced up in 2013.

But some of those who were ineligible said they were targeted by the Taliban.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said expanding the scheme was "the honourable thing to do".

Under the original scheme only those who had worked with the British on the frontline for a year or more, and were then made redundant, were eligible to apply.

This meant hundreds of Afghan interpreters who had worked for British forces in Helmand before they left in 2014 did not qualify for resettlement in the UK, leading to criticism from MPs and some former British military personnel.

Now, following discussions between the defence and home secretaries, the government has announced an expansion of the resettlement scheme.

It means that Afghan interpreters who worked on the frontline with British troops for 18 months or more, between May 2006 and December 2014, but then resigned, will also be eligible to apply to resettle in the UK along with their families.

Mr Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the expansion of the relocation scheme on a joint visit at Stanford Military Training Area in Norfolk, where they saw British troops prepare for a deployment to Kabul working alongside former Afghan interpreters who are now living in the UK.

Mr Wallace described the rule change as a "thank you" to the interpreters for their loyal service.

About 100 more Afghan former interpreters will be eligible to apply to resettle under the new rules.

Ms Patel said: "It's right that we do right by them, the very people that have served alongside our forces in one of the most hostile and difficult places in the world."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Afghan interpreters worked with the Army on the frontline in Helmand Province

Mr Wallace and Ms Patel met Dost, a former Afghan interpreter taking part in the training who had already claimed asylum in the UK.

Dost did not qualify under the initial scheme. He had worked in Helmand as an interpreter for several years but says he had to resign when he received threats from the Taliban.

One of his colleagues had also been kidnapped and killed.

In 2010, he made his own way to the UK, via Turkey and France, to claim asylum. But under the new rules he would now be eligible to apply to resettle in the UK.

He said he was "very happy" that the relocation scheme was being expanded, but added he was still worried about the safety of those left behind.

The expanded relocation scheme still excludes dozens of Afghans who worked for British forces.

Image caption,
Ali* is one of many Afghan interpreters who is still ineligible for resettlement in the UK, even with the rule change

Any interpreter who fled to a third country will not be eligible to apply. Those who worked for British forces for less than 18 months will also not qualify.

The BBC has spoken to one Afghan interpreter who worked for the Army in Helmand for seven months in 2010.

We have given him an alias to protect his identity.

"Ali" is now living in Kabul. He moved there with the help of the British embassy after he received threats from the Taliban.

He says the Taliban and the Islamic State group make no distinction as to how long you worked for western military forces like the British. He says they "will kill you because you have worked for the infidel".

Image caption,
Ali* has received threats from the Taliban since working for the British

The risk, Ali says, is the same for anyone who worked for the coalition, no matter how long.

Britain does have a separate scheme for those who have suffered "intimidation", which in theory allows Afghan interpreters to be resettled in the UK.

But while a number of former interpreters, like Ali, have been relocated within Afghanistan, none has yet been moved to the UK under the intimidation scheme.

Mr Wallace and Ms Patel insist that door is not closed. They say each individual will still be assessed on a case by case basis.

While former interpreters like Ali welcome the expansion of the resettlement scheme, they still fear for the future.

There are hopes for the peace talks now taking place with the Taliban. But those talks have also seen hundreds of Taliban fighters released from prison.

For Ali and his family, the threat has not gone away.

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