Army Afghans get resettlement right
Up to 600 Afghans who worked as interpreters or in other dangerous roles supporting British and allied forces in Helmand will be eligible to resettle in the UK, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said.
Other locally-engaged staff will be paid to enrol on training courses lasting up to five years in Afghanistan or given a severance payment equivalent to 18 months' salary.
Mr Hammond told MPs the resettlement package would be available only to staff who were in post on December 19 last year when Prime Minister David Cameron announced the drawdown of UK forces, and who had served for more than 12 months.
In a statement to MPs Mr Hammond said: "The government recognises the contribution and commitment of all local staff. They have played a vital role in contributing to our shared goal, a more secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan. The future of Afghanistan lies in the hearts and minds of such people, who have done so much to move their country forward. Having invested so much already, the government wants to encourage local staff to stay in Afghanistan and to use their skills and knowledge to make it stronger, better able to meet the challenges ahead and to seize the opportunities."
The Government expects around 1,200 Afghans will qualify for some form of redundancy package, including the offer of training supported by a "living stipend" or a severance deal, paid monthly. Of those, up to 600 may be eligible for the option of resettlement in the UK along with their families.
Mr Hammond said: "The Government acknowledges that some local staff, such as interpreters, have worked in particularly dangerous and challenging roles in Helmand. In recognition of this unique and exceptional service to the United Kingdom, these local staff and their immediate families will be offered a third option, resettlement in the UK.
"In order to help them adjust to life in the UK, they will be offered initial assistance and accommodation including access to benefits, as well as support in seeking employment. To be eligible for resettlement in the UK, local staff must have routinely worked in dangerous and challenging roles in Helmand outside protected bases. Seriously injured staff, who might have qualified had their employment not been terminated due to injuries sustained in combat, are also included.
Campaign group Avaaz, which has been championing the interpreters' cause, welcomed the announcement but said the new plans remained "half-baked" and would leave hundreds of translators at risk. Avaaz Campaign director Alex Wilks said: "This deal may sound great in London, but could be lethal in Kabul. Public pressure has helped throw a lifeline to hundreds of Afghans, but sadly many brave men who've supported British troops risk being left behind."
Rafi, an Afghan interpreter currently in Britain, said: "This deal will still leave many people to the mercy of the Taliban. "Given all that the Afghan translators did for the British Army, this deal seems to be nothing like what was offered to the Iraqis. If the Government applies this deadline of 19 December 2012, then only half the translators will benefit from this deal."
Avaaz said under the new deal only those who had worked as an interpreter for over a year, on the front line and continued to work since the British troop drawdown started in December could apply, while others facing threats could apply under an 'intimidation policy'.