UK Politics

Afghan interpreters' scheme utter failure, say MPs

British soldiers in Helmand Image copyright PA
Image caption Afghan interpreters worked with the Army on the front line in Helmand Province

A scheme aimed at protecting Afghan civilians who worked as interpreters for the Army has not resettled a single person in the UK and has proved an "utter failure", MPs have said.

The Commons Defence Committee said the Intimidation Scheme had instead gone to lengths to stop relocations.

The Ministry of Defence says Britain is the only nation that has a team in Kabul, investigating intimidation.

But Col Simon Diggins said interpreters were being attacked in Afghanistan.

"We have credible evidence of individuals being murdered, others have been chased out of their homes," the former defence attaché to Kabul told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

About 2,000 former interpreters are "stuck" in Afghanistan "under continual daily threat", he said.

In Afghanistan, "if you worked for any coalition countries including the British, your neighbours will know", BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale added.

Tory MP and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Tom Tugendhat, who served in Afghanistan, said the government had a "duty of care" for locally employed civilians.

Mr Tugendhat told the BBC an interpreter he had served alongside "earned his place in the UK many times over".

"But there are others and that is why I gave evidence to the committee," he added.

The cross-party report said the Intimidation Scheme's shortcomings were in contrast to another initiative, known as the Redundancy Scheme, which has seen 1,150 Afghans re-homed in Britain.

It called for a more "sympathetic approach" to those who risked their lives to support British forces during their 13-year combat mission in Afghanistan, which ended in 2014.

Tory MP Julian Lewis, who chairs the defence committee, said if the UK earns a reputation "for leaving those people who put their lives at risk to help our soldiers, at the mercy of our enemies", it would be difficult to find local people prepared to help in future conflicts.

'They will kill them'

Mohammed Hares, an Afghan interpreter for the British Army from 2009 to 2014

Image copyright Sulha Network (Ed Aitken)
Image caption Mohammed Hares was relocated to the UK in 2016 and now chairs the Sulha Network - which represents Afghan interpreters

When you leave home in the morning, you don't know whether you are going to come back home alive. And that is not just the interpreters themselves, but also the families.

They can't tell anybody even nowadays that they were interpreters. If people find out even now, they will just kill them. They will kill their families, they will kill them, they will torture them, they will put the videos on social media as a lesson for everybody else.

I think when we were working with the British Army in Afghanistan, we helped them to achieve their aims. We helped them in the worst situations. We saved their lives.

Now it is their duty to do their job and to help those people who are still in Afghanistan.

The Redundancy Scheme is open to Afghan civilians who had been working in front-line roles for at least 12 months when the UK began to reduce its troop presence in late 2012.

The committee noted that despite previous criticism of its criteria, that scheme had been "generous and proportionate".

While the Intimidation Scheme was "in theory" open to all civilians working for the British, the report found that it had focused "overwhelmingly" on ways of keeping them in Afghanistan, through internal relocation or the offer of security advice, and that resettlement to the UK was seen as a last resort.

The report also criticised the Afghan government, which was involved in creating the schemes, saying its claim that relocation might lead to a "brain drain" was "disingenuous".

"It is impossible to reconcile the generosity of the Redundancy Scheme with the utter failure of the Intimidation Scheme to relocate even a single locally employed citizen to the United Kingdom," it concluded.

'Significant danger'

Campaigners welcomed the report and urged the government to reconsider its approach.

"Many of our brother interpreters found themselves in significant danger after the British campaign in Helmand," said a spokesman for the Sulha Network - which represents Afghan interpreters.

"The eligibility criteria for the resettlement scheme was arbitrary and narrow and the intimidation scheme has only served to give false hope to those who fear for their safety."

The Ministry of Defence said it would take note of the criticism.

"Our intimidation policy is designed to ensure that former Afghan local staff are safe to live their lives in the country and we provide tailored security advice and support to individuals," a spokesman said.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Afghan interpreters who were relocated to Britain would not have to pay the Home Office to stay.

More than 150 translators given a five-year visa to seek sanctuary in Britain wrote to new Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson to highlight their concerns.

The interpreters who worked on the battlefield in Helmand Province had said they faced deportation if they could not find the £2,398 per person to apply for indefinite leave to remain once their visas expired.

The best way to get news on the go

Download the BBC News App.

More on this story