"Dangerously exposed" Afghan interpreters should come to UK, say Committee
Defence Committee Press Notice – 26 May 2018
The Government’s scheme to safeguard Afghan interpreters threatened with reprisals for working with the British Army
“has dismally failed to give any meaningful assurance of protection”
from the Taliban, according to the Defence Committee. Its report, Lost in Translation? Afghan Interpreters and Other Locally Employed Civilians, published today, calls for a more sympathetic approach to Afghan personnel seeking relocation to the UK after serving in frontline roles.
During the United Kingdom’s involvement in Afghanistan, British forces were supported by some 7,000 locally employed civilians (LECs), about half of whom fulfilled vital roles as interpreters. Serving alongside – and for – the British military, Afghan interpreters and other LECs were often exposed to extremely dangerous situations. The Government has stated that the UK owes these individuals a “debt of gratitude”.
Two contrasting schemes
Two Schemes were set up for LECs who served with the UK NATO contingents in Afghanistan. The ‘Redundancy Scheme’ – while not without its critics – has been relatively generous: as well as providing financial support within Afghanistan for former employees who lost their jobs, this Scheme has enabled some 1,150 LECs and dependents to settle in the UK. By contrast, the ‘Intimidation Scheme’ has, in its current form, failed to bring even one person into this country. Indeed, it
"appears to go to considerable lengths to preclude the relocation to the UK of interpreters and other locally employed civilians who have reported threats and intimidation".
The Committee concludes that it is
"impossible to reconcile the generous [relocation] provisions of the Redundancy Scheme … with an Intimidation Scheme that has not admitted anyone at all"
to the United Kingdom:
"Given our Government's own stark assessment of the perilous Afghan security situation, the idea that no interpreters or other former LECs have faced threats and intimidation warranting their relocation to the UK is totally implausible."
This incompatibility of outcomes leads the Committee to question whether the Afghan Government – which has played an important role in shaping the Scheme – is simply unwilling to admit that the country is too dangerous to guarantee the safety of former interpreters and other locally employed civilians.
New approach required
The Committee recommends a more sympathetic approach and a looser application of the Intimidation Scheme. This should include the Government abandoning its "relocation only in extremis" policy, in favour of a more needs-based approach to those facing intimidation for sharing frontline dangers with British troops between 2001 and the 2014 drawdown.
Chairman of the Defence Committee, Dr Julian Lewis MP, commented:
"This is not only a matter of honour. How we treat our former interpreters and local employees, many of whom served with great bravery, will send a message to the people we would want to employ in future military campaigns – about whether we can be trusted to protect them from revenge and reprisals at the hands of our enemies."
[To read the full Report, click here.]
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During the United Kingdom’s involvement in Afghanistan, British forces were supported by some 7,000 locally employed civilians (LECs), about half of whom fulfilled vital roles as interpreters. Serving alongside -- and for – the British military, Afghan interpreters and other LECs were often exposed to extremely dangerous situations. There is a broad consensus that the UK owes them a great ‘debt of gratitude’. This consensus has included the UK Government, which claims to have honoured that debt through two schemes established for LECs who served in Afghanistan:
i) The Redundancy Scheme. This gives benefits in Afghanistan to those LECs who were employed in frontline roles on the date that the UK Government announced the drawdown of British forces in Afghanistan (19 December 2012) and who had worked for 12 months or more. However, the option of relocation to the UK has been made available only to those LECs who meet those criteria and also served on the front line in Helmand for a minimum of 12 months.
ii) The Intimidation Scheme. This is, in theory, open to all LECs; but its focus has overwhelmingly been on solutions inside Afghanistan – either in the form of security advice or through internal relocations. Relocation to the UK has been treated as a matter of last resort. Remarkably and regrettably, not one single interpreter (or other LEC) has successfully been relocated to the UK under the Scheme as implemented so far.
Both Schemes have been the subject of substantial criticism from the media, former Service personnel and from LECs themselves. Critics have spoken of former interpreters and other LECs being “abandoned” by the UK Government and have alleged that many of them resorted to using people-smugglers in order to escape the revenge of the Taliban. The Redundancy Scheme has attracted criticism for the allegedly “arbitrary” nature of the cut-off date; whilst the failure to relocate anyone at all under the terms of Intimidation Scheme has been roundly condemned.
In the light of these criticisms, the Defence Committee, in this and the previous Parliament, has examined the effectiveness of both schemes. We wanted to assess whether they operate effectively and whether they discharge our country’s debt sufficiently.
This is not just a matter of honour. How we behave now will send a message to interpreters and other LECs – whom we are likely to need in future military campaigns – about whether we can be trusted to protect them from the threat of reprisals at the hands of our enemies.
On the Redundancy Scheme, our report finds that:
- Despite criticisms of the Scheme for its cut-off date, it has been generous and proportionate in allowing former interpreters and other LECs to settle in the United Kingdom. The MoD has told us that some 1150 LECs and their dependents have been able to relocate to the UK under this Scheme.
- However, we recommend that the MoD should still examine whether to extend the in-country options of this Scheme to former LECs who left service before 19 December 2012. We also suggest that the Government should explore providing scholarships and training support to educational facilities in Afghanistan.
The situation in respect of the Intimidation Scheme is incomparably worse. Our report finds that:
- It is impossible to reconcile the generosity of the Redundancy Scheme with the utter failure of the Intimidation Scheme to relocate even a single LEC to the United Kingdom. This incompatibility of outcomes leads us to question whether the Afghan Government – which has played an important role in shaping the Scheme – is simply unwilling to admit that the country is too dangerous to guarantee the safety of former interpreters and other LECs.
- The ‘no brain drain’ argument, which has dominated UK-Afghan intergovernmental working on the Intimidation Scheme, is completely disingenuous. If it were genuine, it would also have ruled out the successful relocation of hundreds of LECs to the UK under the Redundancy Scheme. No objections about losing “the brightest and the best” appear to have been raised to relocations under that Scheme – a fact which only strengthens the suspicion that the Intimidation Scheme has been stymied by the insistence of the Afghan Government on denying the reality of the local security situation.
- There is ample scope for a looser and more sympathetic approach to the application of the Intimidation Scheme, as members of the Assurance Committee set up to oversee it have conceded. We therefore recommend that the Assurance Committee should bring forward proposals for applying the Intimidation Scheme in a meaningful way. In doing so, the Government must abandon its policy of leaving former interpreters and other loyal personnel dangerously exposed in a country deemed too dangerous for those charged with assessing their claims to venture out from their bases in order to do so.