Lord Dannatt tells Government to allow Afghan interpreters into Britain

Lord Dannatt will urge the Government to be “more generous and open hearted” to young Afghans who served on the frontline
Lord Dannatt will urge the Government to be “more generous and open hearted” to young Afghans who served on the frontline  Photo: Julian Simmonds

The former head of the Army will ministers that Britain must give refuge to the Afghan interpreters who helped saves the lives of his troops.

Lord Dannatt, the former Chief of the General Staff, says that Britain must act first and ask questions later to give asylum to Afghan interpreters threatened with death for helping British troops.

British soldiers question locals through an interpreter during a patrol in the city of Kandahar in 2008
British soldiers question locals through an interpreter during a patrol in the city of Kandahar in 2008  Photo: Reuters

He will urge the Government must be “more generous and open hearted” to young Afghans who served on the frontline in Helmand and want to resettle in Britain for their own safety.

His plea comes as one former interpreter who worked for British forces told the Telegraph he is terrified to leave his home because of threats from the Taliban.

Lord Dannatt will meet with Penny Mordaunt, the Armed Forces Minister, on Monday, after more than 16,000 people signed an online petition calling for the government to protect interpreters.

Campaigners have attacked a two-tier scheme, where those who had served on the Helmand frontline and were still working as of December 2012 were given a chance to relocate.

Hundreds of interpreters who worked in earlier years - during the peak of the fighting - did not qualify.

The Telegraph last week obtained new figures showing that nearly 3,000 Afghans were employed as interpreters by British forces during their operations in Helmand province – more than previously thought.

Controversy continues to rage over the Government’s refusal to offer asylum to more Afghan interpreters, including one who put himself in danger by working for the Prime Minister.

The 26-year-old, known as Shaffy, said he felt “abandoned” after working as one of the British Army's most senior interpreters in Afghanistan, including a spell with David Cameron in 2011.

Lord Dannatt, who has urged people to sign the petition, said: “I think the approach needs to me more generous and open-hearted in principle.

“The dates that have been set by which people can qualify are too limited. All those who have served as interpreters and shared the risks with us ought to benefit from whatever scheme the British government has running.”

Lord Dannatt believes that forcing interpreters to spend months proving the threats were genuine before finally taking action is putting their lives at risk.

A 2008 photograph shows Prince Harry directing two Afghan men in Helmand with the help of an Afghan interpreter
A 2008 photograph shows Prince Harry directing two Afghan men in Helmand with the help of an Afghan interpreter  Photo: Reuters He added that if necessary, interpreters who are fearful of their lives should be taken out of the country before an investigation has proven people are trying to kill them.

“There needs to be a shift to a presumption that people will be helped, even if we find on subsequent investigation that someone has pulled the wool over our eyes,” he said.

Amnesty International last week said the plight of Afghan interpreters was a “serious human rights concern” and called for David Cameron to do more to help those at risk of being murdered.

A former interpreter told this newspaper it is near impossible for him to find work, such is his fear that Taliban sympathisers who regard him as a traitor will hunt him down.

In a direct plea to Mr Cameron, the 28-year-old said: "Our message to the British prime minister, to the Government and its people, is that they must not forget us.

“We worked for them during a really hard time. We all face the same danger, those of us who worked for a year of those who worked for many years. We must be given asylum.”

‘Ghafoori’ – who asked us to disguise his identity – worked for British forces in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, for five years between 2006 and 2011.

One of his roles was to help the British co-ordinate their work at the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) with that of the Afghan National Security Force in their joint fight against the Taliban.

He said he also accompanied Royal Military Police units on front line patrols, placing himself in constant danger of attack by fighters targeting British soldiers.

Ghafoori said: "Our convoys were ambushed and suffered IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] and suicide attacks. It was a terribly dangerous job because going to the district was like going to no man's land.”

The first threat he received from the Taliban was by way of a chilling letter left on his car windscreen, outside the offices of the PRT.

"The coordination centre was at the Police Office of Helmand. One day when I came out, I found a letter stuck on my car,” said Ghafoori. “It was from the Taliban addressed to me, they clearly warned me and said that ‘according to our information you work for foreign forces and that means we are allowed to kill you’.”

The threats continued over the following months.

"I started getting phone calls and text massages asking me to stop. I had to changes SIM cards a lot," said Ghafoori.

He fears Taliban hit men have obtained photographs taken of him working with British forces, in particular during a visit by British ministers to the PRT’s co-ordination centre.

"I had to translate in the meeting and I could not cover my face in such meeting, so I’m worried that those photos will definitely come online one day and it would put my life in more danger," said Ghafoori.

One of his former colleagues - who interpreted for Gordon Brown during a visit by the then Prime Minister to Helmand - has already fled to New Zealand, following the publication of his photograph.

But Ghafoori’s hopes of seeking asylum in Britain came to nothing when he was told by the Labour Support Unit (LSU), the Ministry of Defence unit which recruited him to work as an interpreter, that such an application would be refused.

He said: "I went to the intimidation section of LSU but they told me that I was not in that much danger and they just gave me some safety advice.

Now Ghafoori says he may be driven, along with other former interpreters, to fleeing Afghanistan and making his way to the UK as an illegal migrant.

"We hope that the British government will start helping us and take us away from Afghanistan, otherwise the other only option we have to use illegal ways to go abroad," he said.

“We all know that it is very risky to go abroad using smugglers; you get killed, your ship gets drowned or you die in a container. But what can we do? That is the only final option for us.

“If I wasn’t for the threats against my life I could at least sell potatoes on a cart and earn some money, here in Lashkar Gah.

"I live like a prisoner, I don't go out a lot, do not attend weddings or parties. If I am sick and need to go to Kabul, I just fly because I do not want use the road, but because I have no work I can hardly afford to do that," he said.

Ghafoori added: “I know life in Britain is not easy and you have to work hard, but at least there is peace. If I wasn't a target of the Taliban, I would not leave my country.”

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Source : telegraph[dot]co[dot]uk
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