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2 May, 2013 12:55

Welcome, please don’t come: UK encourages Afghan interpreters not to seek asylum

PM Cameron’s cabinet is considering offering ‘really generous’ packages to Afghan interpreters working with British troops, who would not seek asylum in UK and would stay in Afghanistan after the 2014 pullout, risking reprisals from the Taliban.

There are some 450 Afghans working as interpreters for the British troops left in the country. Some politicians and military in the UK call have been calling to treat those people similarly to Iraqis, who used to work with the British deployed there. The Iraqis were offered either one-off financial packages or asylum in Britain, with some 900 of the interpreters opting for the latter.

Britain indicated that this would be the case in mid-March. Gen Lord Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff, said: "British forces would not have been able to do their work effectively without the invaluable help of translators.

"While each case should be looked into on its own merits, there should, nevertheless, be a presumption to grant such residence in the UK or a third-party country, if one can be found."

But between seeing the Afghans as new residents on British soil and signing them a hefty goodbye check, the latter seems preferable to Cameron. On Wednesday he told Radio 4's World at One program, "I do think 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."

The PM added that he had asked UK officials to reconsider the package offered to Afghans who want to stay, to make it "really generous".

Afghan interpreters working with the British are paid high wages compared to most of their compatriots, but the job carries high risk with it. As many as 20 of these workers were killed in action and dozens have been injured.

But those people are also seen as collaborators by the Taliban. They and their families risk retaliation attacks even now, and the fear is that after the NATO-led coalition withdraws most of its troops from Afghanistan in 2014, their lives would be under a greater threat.

Currently Afghan interpreters’ requests for asylum are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

‘Taliban threatened to cut our heads off’

One of the interpreters, Rafi Karimi, who talked to RT from Kabul, is sure that staying in Afghanistan would be a death sentence for the interpreters as the Taliban won’t forgive them for assisting the NATO troops.  

“Those people, who worked with any foreign army in Afghanistan – they’ll lose their life if the Taliban would catch them,” the translator said. "The UK can’t do anything in here for us. They can’t make a checkpoint by our house or give us bodyguards. It is impossible to save the lives of interpreters here in Afghanistan.”

Karimi, who was hired by the British military to translate for Denmark’s contingent in Afghanistan, said that financial support from the UK won’t solve the issue as no sum would be enough to provide security.

“The money can’t protect our lives,”
he explained. “Even if I had $5 million here in Afghanistan - what should I do with this money if I won’t be alive? I want to move to another country. I should save the life of myself and the life of my family.”  

According to the interpreter, the Taliban will have little problem in identifying him and other Afghans, who worked with NATO forces, as the militants have their photos and have already threatened to kill them in the past.  

“I got two warning phone calls from them and so did my colleagues. They said: ‘You have to stop this. We’ll kill you. One day we’ll come, we should catch you and cut off your head,’” he said.

Karimi believes that the only way for him to stay alive is to flee Afghanistan and find a new home in the West.   

“My life will be saved only if I go to UK or any other country, like Canada or Australia,”
he said.