Dozens more Afghan interpreters who risked their lives for British troops will be able to apply to settle in the UK following the government decision to expand a relocation scheme.
Former interpreters and servicemen have welcomed the move, which could mean about 100 linguists and their families will be made eligible to apply for resettlement – but said more must be done for the hundreds still at risk of reprisals in .
Almost 450 interpreters have moved to the UK with their families under , according to the Ministry of Defence.
At present, former employees need to have been made redundant on or after 1 May 2006 with 12 months or more service “outside the wire on the frontline” to apply.
Changes announced on Saturday – to be introduced next month through secondary legislation – will mean any interpreters who resigned on or after the same date with a minimum of 18 months’ service on the frontline can apply for relocation.
The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said: “Our efforts in Afghanistan simply could not have been possible without the help of brave interpreters who risked their lives to work alongside our personnel throughout the conflict. They did not leave us behind then, and we will not leave them behind now.”
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The Interpreters’ Lives Matter campaign group said it was “delighted” by the news but warned the scheme still “doesn’t include everyone”.
“You are leaving a large number of them behind at risk and at the mercy of terrorist Taliban,” it
Earlier this month to Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Wallace urging they offer sanctuary to all interpreters.
“We receive death threats, our families have been targets, people will not employ us, our own communities have turned against us and we are forced to give up our family lands and move home many times,” it read.
It highlighted that thousands of Taliban prisoners “who we helped fight and send to jail” are being released under the US-backed peace deal. “We are targets because of our work,” it added.
Retired colonel Simon Diggins, who has , told the Guardian how as many as 15 interpreters excluded from the scheme have attempted to seek refuge in the UK by travelling through Iran, Turkey and Europe.
He is in contact with one linguist who was present in Moria refugee camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos, which
“Every interpreter we can make safe is good news,” he said of the government’s decision. “I’m very impressed by the way there appears to have been a change of spirit … there appears to be a door open.”
But he added: “My personal view is we should accept liability for all those who are under threat because of their service with us. It is not a small number but what I am saying is it is manageable.
“What we are arguing is that it should be their right to come here.”
British forces in Afghanistan employed 7,000 Afghan civilians, of whom about half were interpreters, according to . The report found the UK has “dismally failed” to protect Afghans who worked as interpreters for the British army and are now at risk from the Taliban and Islamic State.