Afghan interpreter scheme fails to relocate any to safety in UK, report finds

A Government programme to help former interpreters for British forces in Afghanistan has failed to bring a single one to safety in Britain, a new report has found.

MPs on the Defence Committee blasted the Intimidation Scheme set up to help civilians at risk of reprisals from the Taliban after working for coalition forces during the UK's fighting presence in the country.

The scheme seemed to go to "considerable lengths" to stop the relocation to the UK of interpreters and other locally employed civilians (LECs) who were threatened and intimidated, they found.

The failure of the scheme to bring even a single person to the UK was in marked contrast to a second programme, known as the Redundancy Scheme, which has seen 1,150 Afghans re-homed in Britain, the report said.

The investigation, Lost in Translation? Afghan Interpreters and Other Locally Employed Civilians, called for a more "sympathetic approach" to those who risked their lives to aid British forces in the conflict.

Conservative Dr Julian Lewis MP, the committee's chairman, said: "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."

About half of the approximately 7,000 civilians who worked for the British in Afghanistan were interpreters and they often worked in dangerous situations.

The Redundancy Scheme is open to Afghan civilians who had been working in frontline roles for at least 12 months when the UK began to drawdown forces in December 2012.

Troops in Afghanistan
Troops in Afghanistan

The committee noted that despite previous criticism of its criteria, it had been "generous and proportionate".

In contrast the Intimidation Scheme was "in theory" open to all civilians working for the British.

But the report found that it had focused "overwhelmingly" on solutions that involved civilian workers remaining in Afghanistan, receiving security advice or internal relocation within the country.

The report noted: "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."

The committee called for a more sympathetic approach and urged the Government to abandon its "relocation only in extremis" policy.

It also criticised the Afghan government, which was involved in creating the schemes, saying its claim that relocation might lead to a "brain drain" was "disingenuous".

Welsh Cavalry in Afghanistan
Welsh Cavalry in Afghanistan

The report noted: "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 ... is simply unwilling to admit that the country is too dangerous to guarantee the safety of former interpreters and other LECs."

Earlier in May it was announced that Afghan interpreters who were relocated to Britain would not have to pay the Home Office to stay.

More than 150 translators given a five-year visa to seek sanctuary in Britain wrote to the new Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson to highlight their concerns.

The interpreters who worked on the battlefield in Helmand Province, had said they faced deportation if they could not find the £2,398 per person to apply for indefinite leave to remain once their visas expired.