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Britain to offer visas to Afghan interpreters

Cameron to allow interpreters who served with UK forces fighting Taliban to live in Britain, reversing earlier decision.

Last Modified: 22 May 2013 10:32
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An ex-interpreter presented a petition in May calling for Afghan interpreters to be given asylum in the UK [Reuters]

About 600 Afghan interpreters who served with British forces fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan will be allowed to stay in the UK, the government has said.

Prime Minister David Cameron initially opposed the decision, but backed down after a campaign that called for interpreters and their families to be allowed to settle under a similar package to one supporting Iraqi interpreters, and a legal challenge in the UK High Court.

A source from Cameron's office in Downing Street said on Wednesday that he was now preparing to offer five-year visas to those who served on the front line for a year or more.

Cameron had said earlier that Afghan interpreters, who said they were under threat of attack from the Taliban in their homeland because of their work with foreign forces, should only be allowed to stay in Britain "in extremis".

"When we think of all that we have spent and all the cost in money and human lives we have put into Afghanistan, we should do everything we can to encourage talented Afghans to stay in their country and contribute to it," he said.

Choice

However, the Downing Street source said that Britain should recognise the service given by those who had regularly put themselves in real danger while working for the UK.

"The PM has been very clear that we should not turn our backs on those who have trod the same path as our soldiers in Helmand, consistently putting their lives at risk to help our troops achieve their mission," the source said.

"These proposals give them a choice: the opportunity to go on working in Afghanistan, learning new skills and to go on rebuilding their country or to come and make a new start in Britain."

Under the new proposals, those who wish to remain in Afghanistan will receive an improved financial offer under the new plans.

They will be paid their salary for five years if they train or study, or be paid for 18 months if not.

Troop withdrawal

The interpreters' campaign included a petition this month calling for asylum in Britain.

Former Afghan interpreter Mohammad, who had been granted asylum, handed a petition to the foreign ministry that said that they faced the threat of being attacked by the Taliban in their homeland because of their work with foreign forces.

Three men who worked as interpreters for British forces in Afghanistan had launched a legal challenge this month to win the right to live in the UK.

They challenged the government's decision to refuse them the support offered to interpreters in Iraq, who were offered the right to indefinite leave to enter or settle in Britain, or instead a compensation package.

The UK is set to withdraw 3,800 of the country's 9,000 troops from Afghanistan this year, as the NATO-led foreign force prepares to withdraw all combat troops by the end of next year.

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