Last Monday, Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, announced that he will expand the Redundancy relocation Scheme for Afghan interpreters who worked for the British Army, removing the previous requirement that interpreters had to be employed in 2012 when British troops withdrew from the country.
In November 2017, I was invited to give oral evidence to the UK Parliament Defence Select Committee on Afghan interpreters and other locally employed civilians for the British army. The session is available to watch. I gave oral and written evidence based on my ongoing research on the claims for protection, rights and settlement by Afghans and Iraqis who have worked for Western military, as well as on the activities and strategies of their supporters worldwide. One of the recommendations of my written evidence was to “Assess eligibility for the relocation and intimidation scheme on the basis of insecurity and level of threat only, disregarding arbitrary eligibility criteria, such as date of redundancy.”
This most recent policy change that echoes part of this recommendation is, therefore, to be welcomed. However, it still does not cover all Afghan interpreters and other locally engaged civilians who are under threat. This was also recognised by Dr Julian Lewis, chairman of the Commons defence select committee, who responded to the news with the message that the Government must still overhaul its Intimidation scheme, which protects local interpreters in danger “regardless of their role, job or length of service”.
The Defence Select Committee's report published 2 weeks ago, denounced the Government’s failure to protect local Afghans under the Intimidation Scheme. Based on the fact that none of the 401 applicants to the Intimidation Scheme had been relocated to the UK by February 2017 and only 35 were granted a financial reward for relocation within Afghanistan, the committee characterised the scheme as "hitherto useless".
History shows us that changes in policy and formal apologies do not always come quickly. But time is of essence for locally employed civilians still in danger in Afghanistan, those facing deportation from the UK because of rejected asylum claims, and those stranded as asylum seekers in other countries. Since the publication of the report, I have received messages on Facebook from Afghan interpreters still in danger asking me when the Government will change its policies. Advocates from the British veteran and Afghan community told me that they look forward to the official announcement of the Ministry of Defence to see the exact details of the policy shift. They also shared their worries about those who still fall between the cracks of the protection schemes, including those unfairly made redundant.
I asked Mohammed, a young Afghan man, previously employed by the British military in one of my interviews last year if he regretted working for the British in Afghanistan.
No, I have no regrets about that. The regret are these four years (of waiting for a positive decision on my asylum claim). Why did I spend four years between death and life? No one can give me those four years back.Mohammed
He talked to me in the flat in a northern English city where some friends had given him a sofa to sleep on. He didn’t have a room for himself as he became homeless after his asylum case was refused by the Home Office and state support stopped. Keeping me warm with a heater and Afghan tea, he told me about his nightmares about the Taliban and about his journey to the UK on the back of a lorry. A few days before I met him, he had finally been granted refugee status following an appeal.
The committee recommended that the government “adopt a more needs-based approach”, which takes seriously the recurrent insecurity faced by former locally employed civilians and looks to apply the existing conditions of the Intimidation Scheme in “a looser and more sympathetic way”. International relocation shouldn’t be a last resort, out of reach for all – and there is no excuse for further lives being wasted away.