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Afghanistan: Locally Employed Civilians

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 20 December 2016

The UK remains committed to supporting our current and former local staff in Afghanistan. They played a vital part in our efforts towards a more secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan, and our well-established redundancy and intimidation schemes recognise their contribution and the debt of gratitude we owe them.

During the past 12 months, our cross-Government ex-gratia redundancy scheme has continued to see real progress, with around 130 former local staff being relocated to the UK with their immediate families. Since the start of the scheme, we have relocated around 350 former local staff and their families, more than 900 people in total, and there are a number of cases currently going through the relocation process. Around 20 local authorities across the UK have supported the relocation of these families.

There are fewer than 100 local staff still to be made redundant as a result of the drawdown of UK forces. We expect these redundancies to be complete by the end of 2017. It is estimated that around half of these will be given the option to apply for relocation to the UK, with the remainder being eligible for the in-country training or finance options.

There are currently over 100 local staff who are benefiting from our in-country option which offers up to five years of training and financial support. These scholars are undertaking a range of courses such as high school diplomas, and qualifications in engineering and law. Around 20 former staff have gifted the training and support to eligible family members, in many cases to daughters who would not have otherwise had the opportunity to attend higher education.

Under a separate Government initiative, a dedicated in-country team has supported almost 400 local staff who have raised concerns about intimidation as a result of their employment with us. This has ranged from providing bespoke security advice, to providing financial support to over 30 staff to help them relocate to safer areas within Afghanistan. We have also provided interim payments in a number of cases to allow individuals assessed to be at high risk to move to a safe location whilst a full investigation is completed. The levels of intimidation faced in these cases has not so far been such that we have had to relocate individuals to the UK to ensure their safety, but we keep the security situation in Afghanistan under careful review.

Over the past year, we have seen the number of claims of intimidation reduce from around 15-20 cases to about six cases per month. Notwithstanding this, I am still committed to ensuring that investigations into claims of intimidation are conducted in an effective and professional manner, and the safety of our former staff remains the paramount consideration.

A Danish military legal adviser has provided a non-UK perspective to the decision-making process. In addition, we have put in place a number of measures to provide outside assurance of the intimidation policy: a randomly selected 20% of case decisions are subject to legal review to ensure that the policy is working as it should; and, as announced in November last year, a Committee has been established to provide additional external assurance of the delivery of the policy.

The Locally Engaged Civilians (LEC) Assurance Committee, which I chair, has oversight and scrutiny of the intimidation policy. We have held four meetings this year. Each Committee member has been selected to ensure they can provide expert, independent and impartial advice on the application of the policy. They include advisers drawn from the House of Lords; the Intimidation Investigation Unit in Kabul; and HM Forces. Additionally, I am pleased to confirm the appointment of a former LEC as an adviser to the Committee. He brings with him a first-hand perspective of the issues, and provides invaluable insight into the genuine threat faced by local staff in Afghanistan, as well as the viability of the proposed mitigation measures. These Committee members are supported by representatives from the Government Departments involved in the policy.

The Committee has agreed a robust set of terms of reference that empower us to identify areas where the administration of the policy could be improved. We have so far reviewed the application of the policy in three closed cases, and some areas for improvement are being addressed as a result. These include a review of the guidance provided to those involved in the decision-making process, to clarify inconsistent or ambiguous language.

We believe our schemes compare well with those provided by other nations that have operated in Afghanistan. On termination of employment, other nations generally offer either a financial lump sum or a relocation package. However, unlike our ex-gratia redundancy scheme, most nations also require staff to prove they are at risk in order to relocate. The UK is the only nation with a permanent team of trained investigation officers in country to investigate claims of intimidation.

I am confident that the UK’s arrangements meet our commitment to protecting our locally employed staff when their safety is at threat as a result of their work for us.