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Asylum: Afghanistan Interpreters

Volume 755: debated on Thursday 24 July 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether all the Afghan interpreters who have applied for asylum in the United Kingdom will have their applications processed to enable those who are successful to depart from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

My Lords, claims for asylum can only be made from within the United Kingdom. Therefore no claims have been made by those in Afghanistan. To recognise the contribution of our locally engaged civilians we have a generous ex gratia scheme for those made redundant as a result of draw-down. Separately, to protect those directly employed by us who feel a threat of violence because of that work, we have an intimidation policy. These measures are unrelated to UK asylum policy.

My Lords, is not our national honour at stake here? Can my noble friend confirm that although something like 600 people are eligible to come here, of whom 270 have applied, only two visas have been issued? Who is dragging their feet? Is it the Home Office? Is it the MoD? Or is it a combination of both? Perhaps I may ask my noble friend, who is a man of very considerable personal integrity, to bring this shameful situation to the attention of the Prime Minister, so that he can use his authority to get some priority and resource put into this situation. We have a huge debt of obligation to those who have laid their lives on the line for this country and we have to do something about it before the end of the year.

My Lords, I am assured that the Home Office is able to provide the necessary resources to carry out the very important task of issuing visas and supporting the relocation of those who are eligible—who stood, as my noble friend said, shoulder to shoulder with us in the toughest circumstances. I have asked my officials as a matter of urgency to work with their colleagues across government, particularly in the Home Office, to ensure that momentum is maintained.

My Lords, would Her Majesty’s Government be prepared to review and widen the dates that restrict eligibility for the scheme if it emerges that there is evidence after the withdrawal of troops that interpreters who worked for us before the current cut-off dates are being threatened by the Taliban?

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we keep this matter under serious review the whole time. There are no plans at the moment to review the date. This is not a judgment on the value of any individual staff member’s contribution. We recognise that there are staff who made a valuable contribution but who chose to leave our employment before that date. This is an ex gratia scheme linked to the draw-down from Afghanistan and redundancy on or after 19 December 2012. It is not a retrospective process. When a concern about personal safety exists, our intimidation policy applies.

My Lords, if the Home Office is able to do this, it raises a simple question—why has it not been done? Will the Minister bring this to the attention of the Home Secretary? While we all support a robust, rational and sensitive set of rules for immigration, there is an overriding principle here. This is a debt of honour, and when there is a debt of honour, you should honour the debt. Not to do so not only leaves people’s lives in danger but leaves the reputation of this country tarnished.

The noble Lord makes a very good point. Applications are being processed, and I assure the noble Lord that this is well advanced. It is a very complicated process requiring health and security checks. Apart from the need to verify immediate family members, we also have to find local authorities that will agree to take individuals. However, we recognise the commitment that we have given to these people, and we are committed to achieving relocation as quickly as possible.

My Lords, when we are engaged in military operations overseas, such as Bosnia and Afghanistan, do we offer financial inducements to members of the Armed Forces to acquire capability in the relevant language?

My Lords, I have every sympathy for the noble Lord, who is essentially answering for the Home Office, but his answers seem rather woolly. Clearly, it is the mood of this House that these brave people stood by our troops, had their lives at risk and will probably have their lives at risk after the end of this year. On our side, we are quite clear that these people should be allowed into the UK. I understand that the Government announced their policy in June 2013 and expected 600 people to qualify. I am told that two people have so far got a visa. Is this Home Office incompetence? Is it a covert policy of exclusion by delay? If it is neither of those, can the Minister seek an assurance and deliver it to the House that anybody who qualifies will be safely in this country by the end of the year?

My Lords, more than 270 former UK LECs who have been made redundant have been offered and accepted relocation under the scheme. Thus far, two visas are in passports, flights are booked and reception arrangements are being made. We expect a steady stream of visas to come through until all those who are eligible are in the UK. To assure the noble Lord, I stress my personal commitment to this ex gratia scheme and the intimidation policy. I shall do all that I can to keep on top of it.

My Lords, there have been 276 applications but only two relocations in the last year. It pains me to say this but does my noble friend realise that, even with the most generous interpretation, listening to his manful defence of the Government’s policy to provide protection for Afghan interpreters who have with such devotion and courage given service to our troops, one cannot but conclude that this scheme is, in its application and substance, mean-spirited and shaming to the nation?

My Lords, I cannot accept that. The safety of those who have worked for the UK is a major concern for us. Any LEC who has worked directly for Her Majesty’s Government in Afghanistan can come to us and seek protection from violence that is a result of their work for us. In the event of a significant and imminent threat—and a threat of this nature has yet to be presented to us—immediate action, such as moving the individual to a safe house, can be taken. If the only way to protect that individual is to bring them to the UK we can, and we would, do it.