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Iraq: Resettlement of Citizens

Volume 696: debated on Monday 12 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What progress they have made in the implementation of their scheme to help in the resettlement of Iraqi citizens who have worked for the United Kingdom forces in Iraq.

My Lords, on 8 October 2007 the Prime Minister announced assistance for directly employed Iraqi staff working for Her Majesty's Government in Iraq, in recognition of their invaluable contribution to the work of our Armed Forces and civilian missions. Work to implement the scheme is in progress and the relevant departments are putting in place the required mechanisms. Details of how eligible Iraqis wishing to receive assistance can contact employing departments have been published. The total cost of the scheme will reflect the take-up of the different elements. It is impossible to estimate accurately, but it will be at least £20 million.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s recognition that we owe a special duty to the Iraqi staff, although the scheme that they have devised discriminates against those who left British employment prior to August 2007. Many former staff and their families have been forced to flee Iraq and live in other countries. The Government now say that they will be given the opportunity of resettlement in the United Kingdom under the refugee resettlement programme, but the numbers will be limited to 600 places for staff and their dependants. How is such a limit compatible with the Government’s duty to consider each application on its merits?

My Lords, the first point to make is how difficult it is to establish where people have worked and served with us in Iraq. That is part of the reason why we went for the method of separating the two types of claims. There will be direct claims for those people currently working, which will be for some 600 currently serving staff, about 280 of whom will have done more than 12 months, and then between 400 and 500 former staff meeting the criteria. Getting hold of those staff, finding where they are and getting hold of the people whom they worked with in Iraq is extremely difficult, which is why we have gone down the route of the gateway system for those people.

My Lords, the noble Lord said that the provision will be for up to 600 people. Why is there a limit and why are the eligibility criteria for those who served before 8 August 2007 so much tighter than for those who served after?

My Lords, I go back to the numbers. We are talking about 600 people currently serving of whom 280 have done 12 months or more, and about 400 to 500 people who have left our employ. So the numbers are not that greatly different. In terms of interpreters, we think that there are about 91 of them and about 170 who are non-Iraqi in that area, so the numbers are not too different. We think that we have been quite generous in how we have allocated the places and the opportunity for those people to come to the UK. As I have said, the provision will cost in the region of £20 million if the take-up is about 75 per cent, and it could be considerably more than that. The rules for whom those people can bring with them in terms of next of kin, such as spouses, children below the age of 18 and parents over the age of 65, go up to about five personnel. They can, of course, go for a monetary recompense as well.

My Lords, are steps being taken to advertise the Government’s offer, such as it is, to the millions of refugees in Jordan and Syria, who are in a fairly parlous state?

My Lords, the scheme has been put on to the various websites; that is, the MoD web and the Foreign Office web. Within country, we have told those who are working for us that this scheme exists. They have the ability to find out the details.

My Lords, could the Minister comment on the report in the press from Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas Mercer, who claimed that his interpreter was turned away by British officials when inquiring about the requirements of the scheme?

My Lords, I cannot go into specific cases. It is impossible to discuss that case but clearly if he has worked for 12 months for us in the past he will be looked at under the gateway scheme.

My Lords, did my noble friend hear on the radio at the weekend a serving officer in Iraq saying that he was disappointed at the lack of positive coverage in the British media of the successes of the military? Why are the Government reluctant to promote the economic, humanitarian, military and other successes in Iraq? Are they being cowed by the media?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that interjection. The difference between the country after the invasion in 2003, when I first went there, and the last time I went there, which, admittedly, was a year and a half ago, was quite dramatic in terms of the availability of white and other goods. There have been successes but there is no doubt that it is still an extremely dangerous place to be and that is extremely unfortunate. However, people in the south are beginning to take control of their own affairs.

My Lords, perhaps I may return to the Question. Will the noble Lord confirm that if 600 places are available to nuclear families comprising a wife and two children, that would enable only 150 Iraqis who have served us well in Iraq to come to this country?

My Lords, the figure of 600 may well relate to the 600 staff, who are allowed up to four people each, which would make 2,400. I think that is the number but I shall confirm it in writing.

My Lords, will the Minister now answer the questions asked by my noble friends Lord Fowler and Lord Crickhowell?

My Lords, I hope that I have answered them. To go into more detail: as of Friday, 30 staff who completed 12 months’ service and have been made redundant since 8 August will qualify for support. None of those has yet made an application for entry to the UK. Therefore, no one has formally applied for entry clearance. Employing departments have contacted former staff and by Sunday 11 November 242 of those had contacted the MoD, which is considering whether they would fall within the eligibility criteria for assistance. That is where we stand.