The UK’s home secretary has hit back at claims the government is not supporting Afghan interpreters who served with the British Army.
In a joint letter to Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said they had relocated more than 3,000 people under the programme and have pledged to conduct a review into those who were rejected.
They wrote in response to an open letter from 45 retired military officers and officials who said Britain’s relocation programme for at-risk civilians in Afghanistan was “not fit for purpose”.
Lord Dannatt and other senior military figures had voiced concerns in The Times last week that Afghan staff had been rejected for relocation owing to security fears.
But Ms Patel and Mr Wallace said these employees had been deemed ineligible for the initiative because they had been dismissed from service. They said a “balance between generosity and security” was needed.
They have now pledged to offer relocation to 264 employees who were dismissed for a “relatively minor administrative offence”.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to interpreters and other staff who risked their lives working alongside UK forces in Afghanistan,” the ministers said.
“There has been considerable misreporting of the scheme in the media, feeding the impression the government is not supporting our former and current Afghan staff. This could not be further from the truth, and since the US announced its withdrawal we have been at the forefront of nations relocating people.
“However, as the signatories acknowledge, the government has a duty to protect the security of the UK and its citizens, and it would be wrong to make a blanket offer of sanctuary to those who may have committed offences that would be crimes in the UK or pose a security threat to this country.
“We will continue to exclude those whose dismissal was based on serious security concerns at the time, often due to links with the Taliban.”
They said 1,345 locally employed staff, including 679 interpreters, had been dismissed since 2006.
“Of these dismissals, 119 (18 per cent) were for activities that would be criminal offences in the UK,” they said.
“A further 296 (44 per cent) were for a range of activities or offences which either had, or could have had, serious consequences. These include refusal to follow orders or rules for which the consequences were judged to pose a serious risk to UK forces.
“We now offer relocation for the remaining 264 (38 per cent) who were dismissed for what are recorded as relatively minor administrative offences. Since May, we have offered relocation to the 121 people in this category who have so far applied.”
They have pledged to examine all new applications and appeals, where new evidence is presented.
The Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy is being run in parallel with the military withdrawal to bring people to the UK who are judged to be at serious risk of reprisals.
Since 2014, the government has relocated almost 1,400 locally employed staff and their families to Britain and a further 1,400 people have been helped in the past few weeks.
They have pledged to support a further 2,500 people under the programme and said it would remain open indefinitely for all those who qualify.
The initiative is open only to local employees who worked as interpreters and in prosecuting Taliban members. The government says those in low-level support roles, such as cooks and cleaners, are not eligible.
“We are monitoring the situation on a daily basis to ensure that if conditions on the ground deteriorate we can change our processes accordingly,” they said.
“Where cases are contentious they will personally be reviewed by the defence secretary. And unlike [resettlement programmes of] some other countries, our scheme will remain open indefinitely.
“The whole government is committed to ensuring we honour the risks and sacrifices that brave Afghans made to support this country and we will ensure that all those eligible are supported in finding sanctuary at the earliest possible opportunity.”
In May, after the US announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the UK responded to pressure to accelerate its relocation plans for local staff.
Regular reprisals against Afghans who worked for foreign forces have escalated since the withdrawal began as the Taliban seized vast parts of the country.
Because many people are fleeing the country, London said it would change its rules to allow Afghan former staff and their families to apply for relocation to Britain from outside Afghanistan.