'WE ARE FAILING OUR HEROES: FAMILIES OF AFGHAN INTERPRETERS WHO SERVED ALONGSIDE BRITISH TROOPS BATTLING THE TALIBAN STILL CAN'T GET VISAS TO COME TO UK'
- The Government vowed in March last year that translators who helped British soldiers in the fight against the Taliban could bring their loved ones to join them
- Ministers said the rule change could affect as many as 30 interpreters who are living in the UK but have wives, partners and children back in Afghanistan
- More than a year later, not a single family member has been allowed into the UK under the bungled new scheme
By Larisa Brown, Defence and Security Editor, and David Williams
Mail Online – 26 April 2020 (updated, 28 April 2020)
Ministers were last night accused of 'cruelly' keeping Afghan interpreters away from their families after delaying their visas by more than a year. The Government vowed in March last year that translators who helped British soldiers in the fight against the Taliban could bring their loved ones to join them in the UK. Ministers said the rule change could affect as many as 30 interpreters who are living in the UK but have wives, partners and children back in Afghanistan. But more than a year later, not a single family member has been allowed into the UK under the bungled new scheme.
Last night Tory MP Dr Julian Lewis, who led an inquiry into the Afghan interpreter policy, criticised the delays.
"In these times of great restriction, there are fewer burdens on the immigration system",
"There is less excuse than ever for this cruel failure to resolve this debt of honour. I am baffled and frustrated by the successive obstacles that have been placed in the path of brave interpreters and their families."
One translator said he was 'devastated' by the constant delays. Abdul Wakil, 34, has lived in the UK for several years with eldest son Shakeel, 14. His wife was denied entry because she did not come over at the same time. But last year's rule change meant she should now be able to live with him in Manchester, bringing their younger sons, Mustafa, seven, and three-year-old Muzammel.
At the time of the announcement Mr Wakil said he felt like the 'richest person in the world'. He applied for their visas last August and expected to get them within three months. He has only seen Muzammel twice. Instead, they are still waiting and face even more worry because of the spread of coronavirus. Mr Wakil said:
"My little son is saying every day to his mother, 'How is this visa taking so long? I want to be with my brother'. I am devastated and it is hurting me inside, and my son too. Shakeel was so happy when he found out and now he is so sad."
Under the old rules, interpreters and their relatives were required to travel to the UK at the same time for the family members to qualify for relocation. But many did not do so. In some cases wives had to look after relatives in Afghanistan or the interpreters wanted to sort out a job and a home for their children first. Sajid Javid, the then Home Secretary, changed the rules after the Mail's Betrayal of the Brave campaign highlighted their plight.
The changes, which took effect on April 6 last year, removed this requirement so wives and children, or fiancees, or long-term partners who were part of the family before the interpreter relocated, would be able to travel separately. The first applications by the interpreters were made last August. But the Home Office has still not approved any of the visas, say representatives of the interpreters.
Former Army captain Ed Aitken, a spokesman for the Sulha Network of interpreters, said:
"Amongst all the problems the Afghan interpreters have faced in their resettlement to the UK, the inflexibility of the Government to allow wives and children to join them later was the one that caused the most misery.
"When Caroline Nokes [the then Home Office minister] pledged to sort out the problem, the interpreters dared to believe they might be happy again. But to have been left in limbo for over a year, with wives and children left dangling in Afghanistan wondering why their visas have not come through, has been not just disappointing but woefully cruel. After everything they did for us, this is not what they deserve."
A Government spokesman said:
"We are extremely grateful to the Afghan interpreters who played a vital role in our overseas operations, and we have already supported more than 1,300 interpreters and their families to rebuild their lives in the UK.
"The Government is committed to the changes made to the immigration rules in April 2019. We are working to deliver this commitment as a priority to ensure the first people to arrive as a result of this rule change do so as soon as possible."