Lost in Translation? Afghan Interpreters and Other Locally Employed Civilians Contents

2The Redundancy Scheme

The Redundancy Scheme

15.First announced in June 2013, the Redundancy Scheme was, according to former Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon MP, “introduced to recognise the valuable contribution made by local staff in the UK’s operations in Afghanistan”.12 To be eligible for the scheme, applicants must have been:

16.Former LECs who fulfilled these criteria were offered two options:

i)a finance package equivalent to 18 months’ salary, or

ii)a training package of up to five years funded education or training in-country, accompanied by a living stipend equivalent to the final salary.

A third option, relocation to the UK, is available to former interpreters and other LECs who, in addition to fulfilling the criteria above, served in a ‘frontline’ role in Helmand for a minimum of 12 months. According to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, in a letter to the Chairman of the Defence Committee, as of 12 March 2018 the Redundancy Scheme will have brought some 450 LECs and 700 family members to the UK, as well as providing in-country training and finance options for another 372 former LECs.13

The scheme criteria: too tightly drawn?

17.The main criticisms of the Redundancy Scheme have focused on the tightly drawn criteria used to ascertain eligibility—in particular the cut-off date of 19 December 2012. During his oral evidence to our predecessor Committee in February 2017, Thomas Coghlan, a former foreign correspondent for The Times, criticised the Government’s policy as being “fixated” on this “arbitrary cut-off date”.14

18.Rafi Hottak, a former interpreter now resident in the UK, also criticised the Redundancy Scheme for its focus on a cut-off date, “not the threat level to an interpreter” and suggested that the date meant that “many who risked the most on the front line and face threats do not qualify”, including those “who served for many years but resigned because of threats to them and their families”.15

19.On the cut-off date, the Daily Mail, in its written evidence to our predecessor Committee, said that it was “the view of many people we have spoken to, including former senior military figures and veterans of Afghanistan, that there is absolutely no reason nor justification for this date”. The Daily Mail also noted that former LECs had stressed that “some of the most intense fighting happened before this period, and they regularly put their lives on the line for the British”.16

20.The Daily Mail’s written evidence also includes the suggestion that some former LECs believe that their contracts were terminated “in the months leading up to this cut-off point to ensure that they did not qualify for the scheme”. It pointed to concerns that some LECs “who worked through the qualification period have been told that they do not qualify for resettlement to the UK because they did not serve regularly on the front lines”.17

Tightly drawn, but fair?

21.Baroness Coussins, a member of the Government’s LEC Assurance Committee established to scrutinise the implementation of the Intimidation Scheme, acknowledged that the criteria used for the Redundancy Scheme were “very specifically and narrowly drawn”.18 She told us that 1,200 LECs, of the near 7,000 who were engaged in Afghanistan, qualify for the scheme, and “only half of them, approximately, qualify for the resettlement option”.19 However, Baroness Coussins rejected the idea that the scheme was inferior to those offered by other allies (for an overview that places the UK schemes in the broader international context, see the annex attached to this report).

22.Baroness Coussins told us that there has “been a lot of misleading publicity” about the Redundancy Scheme and said that under the scheme “LECs with 12 months’ frontline service qualify for relocation here without having to meet any asylum criteria, which are necessary for most other NATO-nation states”.20 Jonathan Iremonger, Assistant Chief of Staff at the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, suggested that “most other NATO nations, if they have a relocation scheme, it is on the basis that it is not safe for the person to remain in the country”. Stressing that the Redundancy Scheme was not based on that premise, Mr Iremonger noted that the scheme would move people who fulfilled the criteria without being “conditional upon intimidation”.21

23.On why 19 December 2012 was chosen as the cut-off date, Mr Iremonger explained that that was the date that the drawdown had been announced. He suggested that the Government’s decision was taken on the principle that “we should reward those who had stayed with us through to that point and recognise our debt to them”, as well as the fact that having been made redundant, LECs might face a period “when they might struggle to find employment”.22

24.The MoD rejected the suggestion, repeated in the Daily Mail’s written evidence, that some LECs had had their contracts terminated to disqualify them from the redundancy scheme. Comparing the date that the Redundancy Scheme was announced by the Government (June 2013) with the chosen cut-off date of 19 December 2012, the MoD argued that “the Redundancy Scheme criteria were not known when decisions on redundancies were made prior to December 2012” and that any such redundancies were a result of work no longer being available. Indeed, the MoD insisted that “once the scheme criteria had been announced, the scheme administrators took care to avoid any unreasonable disqualification”.23

25.Overall, the MoD has argued that the Redundancy Scheme is both generous and proportionate and also that the scheme was created following consultations with NATO allies, including the Afghan Government.24 The MoD’s evidence has also sought to make clear what the scheme is and what it is not. It is a redundancy-based scheme, designed for recognising debts owed to those who lost work because of the UK’s drawdown. It is not designed to deal with the issue of intimidation.25 The latter is the subject of the Government’s Intimidation Scheme and is considered in the next chapter of this report.

Status of relocated LECs

26.Those LECs and their dependents who relocated to the UK have been provided with “limited leave to enter the UK”, under UK immigration rules, and a visa that grants five years Leave to Remain in the UK, “with an opportunity in the future to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain at the end of that five-year period”.26

27.In May this year, Deborah Haynes, Defence Editor of The Times, reported that 150 Afghan former LECs now resident in the UK had written to the Home Secretary, stating that they had been told that they would each have to pay around £2,389 to be granted Indefinite Leave to Remain or face the risk of being deported to Afghanistan. According to these LECs, the uncertainty over their residency status had prevented many from finding a job, in turn making it more difficult to afford the fees demanded for Indefinite Leave to Remain. The LECs also referred to dependents who either had to stay at home to care for family members, or were unable to afford the costs of travelling to Kabul to secure their visas, and are still in Afghanistan.27

28.On 4 May 2018, the Home Secretary, Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, announced that the fees for applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain for former Afghan LECs would be waived and added that the Home Office would look again “at what can be done” to make it easier for dependents to join LECs who have already travelled to the UK.28

29.We understand the disappointment of those former LECs whose employment finished before the cut-off date, and are therefore ineligible to apply for the Redundancy Scheme. We note the suggestions that the cut-off date was arbitrary and that many feel that there was no justification for the date chosen.

30.However, it is important to recognise what the scheme is and what it is not. The scheme is not designed to be a more general scheme of relocation and re-education for LECs. It is a Redundancy Scheme, focused on acknowledging the Government’s responsibilities to LECs who have lost their employment because of the drawdown of UK forces in Afghanistan.

31.Given that the total number of former LECs and their dependents relocated to the UK is in excess of one thousand, and that nearly 400 former LECs have benefited from the in-country training and finance aspects, we consider that the Redundancy Scheme has been generous and proportionate in allowing locally employed civilians to settle in the United Kingdom as a result of losing their jobs when UK Armed Forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan. This generosity contrasts starkly with the total failure to offer similar sanctuary to interpreters and other LECs under the provisions of the Intimidation Scheme.

32.Locally employed civilians and their dependents admitted to the UK by means of the Redundancy Scheme have not had to meet the asylum criteria applied to most former LECs seeking relocation to other ISAF states. However, the recent difficulties over payment for an extension of relocated LECs’ Leave to Remain could have had serious consequences for those affected and should never have arisen. We are pleased that the Home Secretary has waived these unjustified fees, following an effective and conscientious media campaign.

33.The Redundancy Scheme has enabled the relocation of a substantial number of locally employed civilians. However, if it was right to bring them to the United Kingdom, it is right to allow them to stay. All relocated LECs should, as a matter of course, be provided with Indefinite Leave to Remain. While the Home Office has agreed to waive the fees for those who have recently been faced with visa extension demands, those who have already paid for such extensions should have their fees refunded.

34.The MoD should also consider more seriously how it responds to those who worked for UK forces before the cut-off date and who feel unfairly excluded. In particular, the MoD should examine the possibility of extending its in-country training options to former LECs who left service before 19 December 2012. We suggest, for example, that the Government could provide scholarships and offer training support to educational facilities in Afghanistan.

12 HC Deb, 4 June 2013, c.87WS; Letter from Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP to the Committee Chairman, dated 18 September 2015

13 Letter from Rt Hon Mark Lancaster TD VR MP to the Chairman, dated 12 March 2018

14 Q20 [HC 993]

15 LEI0001

16 LEI0003

17 LEI0003

18 Q43 [HC572]

19 Q43 [HC572]

20 Q66 [HC572]

21 Q66 [HC993]

22 Q67 [HC993]

23 Letter from Rt Hon Mark Lancaster to the Chairman, dated 12 March 2018

24 Qq66, 67, 71 [HC993]

25 Q71 [HC993]

27 Haynes, D. (3 May 2018). Afghan interpreters fear being sent home to their fate under visa rules, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/afghan-interpreters-fear-being-sent-home-to-their-fate-under-visa-rules-0d7qdn8vr

28 BBC News (4 May 2018). Afghan interpreters’ UK immigration fee waived, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43998925

Published: 26 May 2018