About 600 Afghan interpreters who worked with British forces in Afghanistan (about half of the total) will be eligible for asylum in the UK, the government announced this week. The government proposes to grant interpreters a five year residence permit -the standard duration for recognised refugees-, with the possibility of applying for permanent residence thereafter. According to the BBC, whether close family members will be allowed to accompany the interpreters will be decided on a case by case basis by immigration officials.
The British Refugee Council has noted that the proposal has received support from across the political spectrum, but voices concerns that the eligibility criteria for the scheme are set quite high and may well exclude many people in need of protection. Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the British Refugee Council stated that he welcomes the government’s recognition of the dangers faced by many in Afghanistan, adding that, “Given this level of instability and danger, we urge the Government to rethink its practice of returning young people, many barely out of childhood, to the situation that exists in Afghanistan right now.”
The organisation Avaaz, which had presented a petition to the government signed by 82,000 people in support of offering protection to Afghan interpreters, has welcomed the news, but agrees that the scheme may well exclude many deserving cases, simply because their contract with UK forces ended before 1 January 2013.
Under the scheme, interpreters fulfilling certain conditions, who have worked on the front line with UK troops for over a year, may come to the UK, or chose to remain in Afghanistan and sign-up to five years of fully-funded training and education, or continue to receive their current salary for a further 18 months.
The Danish government has also announced a plan to provide visas to interpreters who have worked with Danish troops in order for them to be able to come to Denmark to then apply for asylum. Danish Defence Minister, Nick Haekkerup, has said that Denmark has a “moral obligation” to help. The Danish Refugee Council has welcomed the initiative: “Although we do not yet know the practical details of the screening process we see this as a positive and responsible initiative aiming at ensuring the safety of a vulnerable group of people”, says Head of Asylum in the Danish Refugee Council, Eva Singer.
The pledges from the British and Danish governments are in contrast to an announcement from the Dutch government this week that there is not sufficient support in parliament for an equivalent protection scheme in the Netherlands.