Monday, May 09, 2016

All those Afghan interpreters, Britain's crucial unarmed forces, merit grateful refuge not dismissive neglect

A young girl brings a letter home from school from her parents. So far, so everyday, anywhere.
Except it’s from the Taliban, vowing execution for her ‘infidel’ father.
His crime? Risking his life – and those of his family and friends – for British forces. Only to find that ‘help for heroes’ only apparently goes so far.
Whether morally – after putting themselves in danger not only as targets but ‘traitors’ – or merely pragmatically – why should any conflict-zone local help help-denying Britain in future? – the Afghan interpreters’ case (raised way back when by Metro) should seem open-and-shut.

Experience here both in Iraq and Afghanistan showed all too vividly just how dependent not merely mere journalists but the forces themselves are on local ‘terps’.
Much was made by the MoD about how dwindling British troops in Helmand were not fighting, but facilitating – literally bridge-building and overseeing as the Afghan National Army assumes control.
Yet those ‘shura’ meetings, everyone cross-legged on rugs insisting ‘after you’ with cups of chai, only occurred thanks to muttering intermediaries - no matter how many odd words of local lingo got added to swottiest officers’ repertoires.
British troops, for all unenviable dangers when in the field and sacrificed home lives left behind, at least ‘only’ fought Afghan terms of between six and nine months.
Their local guides knew they were there for life, whether in service or living in fear of its aftermath – not only for themselves, but their families once their alleged collaboration becomes known.
And yet, and yet: ministers and judges claim that unless you were lending a hand – that is, voice – in only the last months right up until the UK’s shabbily-eventual final retreat from Helmand, forget the slightest remembrance.
Two translators who fear Taliban reprisals were rejected on Monday in an attempt to challenge the government’s limited assistance package.
The High Court ruled last May in favour of a government assistance scheme which only offers refuge to those still employed by the British army in December 2012 - a decade after the initial Afghan invasion.
And that verdict has now been upheld by the Appeal Court, to campaigners’ fury - while government officials expressed their own indignation at the prospect of a further challenge.
Afghanistan is a land in which many inhabitants feel shifting allegiances, understandably alienated by Taliban strictures yet also uneasy at Western intrusion and imposition – and, in at least a few cases, willing to favour the best-paying at any moment in time.
All the more reason, then, to respect those lending bilingual services to apparently-benevolent occupiers, even if isolating from families – even when even doing that barely lessens any risk.
Those ‘terps’ out there would never talk out of turn, yet only now are a few out of service speaking out – as well they might.
Law firm Leigh Day, leading the legal challenge, justly insisted the options on offer to Afghan interpreters were far less generous than those provided to counterparts during the Iraq war.
Government backers point to Iraq apparently being even more tumultuously unsafe in the aftermath of Allied incursions – and also a promise to Afghanistan’s also-volatile government not to encourage an apparent ‘brain-drain’ towards elsewhere.
Those Iraqi staff, then – also selfless if now slightly less unfortunate - were promised indefinite leave to live in Britain or one-off packages of financial aid.
But as put by one of the translators bring yesterday’s challenge, willing to give his name only as Rafi: ‘The conflict in Afghanistan was longer and more dangerous than in Iraq – soldiers who served in both have told us this – and yet we are being treated differently.’
The Afghan proposals, by contrast, could deny asylum to as many as three-quarters of those translators who helped British troops in Afghanistan.
Rosa Curling, from Leigh Day, said after the ruling: ‘Our clients are very disappointed. We hope that the Supreme Court will allow us to take this legal fight forwards on behalf of these brave men.’
And ever since that apparently-tempting announcement was made by then-defence secretary PhilipHammond in 2013, a whole … two have been able to take up the offer.
Even after that promise of help – acclaimed by Mr Hammond as ‘generous’, while David Cameron insisted ‘we should not turn our backs’ – tangible progress has been a Helmand-esque crawl.
It took a year for that touted relocation scheme to even emerge into official place, with take-up since then predictably entangled in ever, even more hindrances.
Those desperately temped into making more haphazardly ad hoc lurches towards safer new lives here include Nangyalai Dawoodzai, the 29-year-old former Camp Bastion aide founddead last month at his temporary West Bromwich home.
He is said to have killed himself, not long after being threatened with deportation to Italy –government officials hailing telltale evidence he was once fingerprinted there en hitch-hiking route to the country he also-gutsily served.
Meanwhile, despite that 600- – sorry, 500-strong – promise, so faronly two translators have taken up residence in Britain, with another ten said to be presently stranded in Calais.
Afghan interpreters have told Metro of their terror and persecution after being left ‘abandoned’ in their homeland.
Mohammed, an interpreter for the British Army in Helmand between 2006 and 2009, barricaded himself at home after receiving frequent threatening phone calls.
He also decided to keep his seven-year-old daughter home from school after she was handed a letter vowing to kill her ‘infidel’ father.
Mohammed quit as a translator after one of his colleagues went missing while on leave - and turned out to have been kidnapped by the Taliban.
He said: ‘Even in the presence of British and US troops we don’t feel safe - we and our families are all in danger.
‘David Cameron has talked about our safety, but all the interpreters who worked in the past are really worried - we feel we’re being abandoned to the Taliban.’
Another former interpreter, Faisal, told Metro: ‘We interpreters have worked so many years with British troops in Afghanistan in Helmand, which is the most dangerous province in Afghanistan.
 ‘We risked our lives and have worked with British troops shoulder to shoulder on the frontline and now they are turning back against us.’
Some 454 British troops died during that hazily-justified,little-understood conflict, with another estimated 2,000 wounded - suffering often-life-transforming injuries.
Their valiant efforts remain too-little supported in physical, mental and financial back-up, but at least the sacrifice and heroism can reflect on plenty of recognition and appreciation, glancingly at least.
The interpreters - without whom troops and officials could barely make their useful way outside a patrol base, let alone understand and act upon recon interceptions – could be said to put themselves in double danger.
Not only did they sign up with an incursive force, vulnerable to any onslaughts, but also courageously pinpointed themselves to too many as supposed traitors – with their families suffering similar lingering susceptibility and stigma.
At least 21 translators have died on duty in Afghanistan since 2001 and supporters say at least five have been murdered while on leave.
An estimated 94 per cent of Afghan translators have received death threats for their service, according to the Lib Dems whose former leader Lord Ashdown has been pressing ministers to overhaul and expand the existing scheme.
Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron said: ‘Britain owes these people a massive debt of gratitude and the government must step up and help those in need.
‘They put their lives at risk to serve alongside us and the least we can do is protect them from persecution for that service.’
The Refugee Council’s policy manager Judith Dennis said: ‘The government should focus on the fact that if a former interpreter’s life is in the balance then it’s our duty to offer them safe haven, not to instead abandon them to their fates because of a bureaucratic obsession about employment dates.
‘We urge the government to change its mind - it’s essential we reciprocate the loyalty these interpreters showed to our forces by enabling them to live safely and rebuild their lives in the UK.’
The Ministry of Defence insisted, mind: ‘We are pleased with this judgment that confirms our redundancy scheme is fair and equitable.
‘All locally-employed staff who have worked alongside UK forces remain eligible for support under our intimidation policy, including possible relocation to the UK.’
The offer does at least promise a choice of relocation to Britain on a five-year visa for those said to  have served ‘outside the wire’, training or education for five years or a pay-off in monthly instalments worth 18 months’ wages.
MoD officials further suggested they were ‘disappointed’ by the claimants’ vow to take the case to the Supreme Court.
Why, how dare they, eh...
The International Institute for Strategic Studies last week told how 15,000 Afghans were killed in continuing conflicts and terror attacks last year – with the Taliban more resurgent than ever before 2001 and the West’s muddled but bravado-intoxicated intervention.
We got ourselves into it, and our useful ‘terps’ too – before, belatedly, getting only us out.

If anyone does, all those Afghan interpreters – British forces in all but arms – merit remaining, be(com)ing, us as well.

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