Ministers gave hope last night to hundreds of Afghan translators who feared being left behind at the mercy of the Taliban.
In a significant victory for the Daily Mail’s Betrayal of the Brave campaign, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced the fast-tracking of their applications to come to the UK.
To protect those who served with British forces, the criteria dictating who qualifies to relocate has also been widened, giving fresh optimism to many hoping for a new life. Western troops are due to pull out of Afghanistan in weeks.
Last night, Mr Wallace paid tribute to this newspaper’s award-winning campaign, which has highlighted the cases of translators who fear they will be abandoned to the Taliban.
He said: ‘From the start, the Daily Mail has championed these brave Afghans. The Home Secretary and I are grateful for the work it has done to highlight the issue.’
For the first time, at least 30 interpreters who worked with UK troops, but who were not directly employed by the Ministry of Defence, have been told they are likely to be granted sanctuary.
This group is set to include around 15 who worked for a Special Forces unit that recruited interpreters directly and those working with British troops employed through a private company. They had feared they would not qualify.
In another first, some interpreters whose service was terminated by UK forces for minor reasons will be approved for relocation.
More than 1,000 interpreters had their service terminated without any entitlement to appeal. As many as 260 of these could qualify for sanctuary.
Interpreters welcomed the amendments as a ‘major step forward and concession’.
Ministers gave hope last night to hundreds of Afghan translators who feared being left behind at the mercy of the Taliban. To protect those who served with British forces, the criteria dictating who qualifies to relocate to the UK has been widened. Pictured: Translator Mayar, 47, and the medics he worked with at Camp Bastion in Helmand province [File photo]
The Government has rewritten the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP) to recognise the worsening security situation in Afghanistan and the impending departure of international troops.
Mr Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel are working to ensure as many interpreters and their families can be airlifted out of Afghanistan by mid July, when UK and US troops are due to leave.
At least five coalition translators have been murdered this year and former UK interpreters have been attacked as emboldened jihadis step up operations.
Mr Wallace said: ‘As we withdraw our Armed Forces, it is only right we accelerate the relocation of those who may be at risk of reprisals. Nobody’s life should be put at risk because they supported the UK Government to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan.
‘We are doing everything to make sure we recognise their services and bring them to safety. It is the right thing to do.’
The relocation policy offers interpreters a visa for five years’ leave to enter the UK and the opportunity to apply for indefinite leave to remain at the end of that period. They may also be accompanied by a wife and dependent children.
The scheme is open to any Afghan whose life is at risk as a consequence of their work for UK forces. An assessment of the threat will be made by staff at the British embassy in Kabul.
The offer is regardless of their seniority while working with British troops, their length of service, employment status or role.
The policy also includes paid travel to the UK, four months’ accommodation and access to mainstream UK benefits.
Mayar, 47, is waiting to leave Afghanistan having qualified to come to the UK. He worked with British medics at Camp Bastion in Helmand. The Mail revealed on Saturday that around 50 former translators, who have already been approved for relocation, have been placed on standby to fly to the UK with their families in the next 14 days.
Last night, Miss Patel said: ‘It is our moral obligation to recognise the risks they faced in the fight against terrorism and reward their efforts. I’m pleased we are meeting this fully by providing them and their families the opportunity to build a new life in this country.’
Many interpreters feared their last chance of escaping the Taliban had gone. Last night they welcomed the latest concessions.
In a significant victory for the Daily Mail’s Betrayal of the Brave campaign, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (pictured) announced the fast-tracking of the translators’ applications to come to the UK [File photo]
One, Abdulzai, spent 16 months on the front line with British troops before being dismissed.
The 29-year-old claims he resigned by telephone in August 2012 after his uncle was kidnapped by insurgents. He said they threatened to kill his family unless he stopped working for ‘infidel forces’ and said he only found out he had been dismissed in late 2020 when he applied, unsuccessfully, for relocation. Last night he said: ‘This is wonderful news and will give us a chance of escaping the Taliban because if we remain they will find us and punish us.
‘Like many colleagues, I have been the victim of an injustice. I hope that this can finally be put right before the Taliban find me.’
A total of 1,010 interpreters out of the 2,850 used by UK troops during the military campaign – a staggering 35 per cent – had their contracts terminated between 2001 and 2014 without the right to challenge the decision or to appeal. Many interpreters claim they were wrongly dismissed.
But in a significant concession, defence sources said last night: ‘The Secretary of State has directed that, under the current circumstances, those dismissed for minor offences who would otherwise be eligible for relocation by default under ARAP can be considered for relocation with the presumption of approval where there are no other factors of concern.
‘We are accelerating the pace of relocations.’