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

Conclusions and recommendations

Locally employed civilians

1.We agree with Tom Tugendhat MP that providing care and support for personnel engaged in conflict—whether as soldiers or as locally employed civilians (LECs)—is an incentive to recruiting such staff for future operations. Furthermore, on grounds of principle and morality, the UK Government owes a duty of care to those who served alongside UK forces. We express our gratitude for the hard work and bravery of the interpreters and other LECs who served with UK forces during the Afghan conflict. (Paragraph 13)

2.We note that the Ministry of Defence has, on many occasions, expressed its appreciation to those who served as LECs in Afghanistan. We also note its claim to have recognised this debt by setting up the Redundancy Scheme and the Intimidation Scheme. The purpose of our inquiry is to assess whether these Schemes operate effectively and whether they discharge our country’s debt sufficiently. (Paragraph 14)

The Redundancy Scheme

3.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. (Paragraph 29)

4.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. (Paragraph 30)

5.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locally employed civilians to settle in the United Kingdom as a result of losing their jobs when UK Armed Forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan.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. (Paragraph 31)

6.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. (Paragraph 32)

7.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. (Paragraph 33)

8.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. (Paragraph 34)

The Intimidation Scheme

9.The Intimidation Scheme’s investigatory process has been criticised and there appears to be a perception that investigators are hard to contact, aloof and unfamiliar with the actual situation on the ground outside Kabul. While we do not question the sincerity of those who have criticised the investigatory process, we have found little evidence to support the claim that the process is “unfair, unreasonable and shameful”. It is, however, over-dependent on indirect evidence from third parties, such as Afghan Government agencies, since the local security situation makes it too dangerous for Westerners to carry out their inquiries in person. (Paragraph 62)

10.The MoD admits that its investigators conduct their work remotely, from the NATO base at Hamid Karzai International Airport. This is a far from ideal situation and, despite the MoD’s assurance that all claimants are provided with initial assessments within 24 hours of their concerns being raised, the fact that investigators are unable to leave their base camp only serves to highlight the serious threats that international actors face in Afghanistan. (Paragraph 63)

11.There is clearly a deep suspicion of the Afghan authorities among the LEC community. The Intimidation Scheme, in its current form, has dismally failed to give any meaningful assurance of protection. The scheme suffers from perceptions that it is unfair and miserly and provides insufficient protection for LECs living in what the UK Government has itself conceded is a ‘dangerous and volatile place’. Such perceptions will persist until the Intimidation Scheme offers a genuine prospect that, when individuals face serious and verifiable threats to their lives, as a result of having helped UK armed forces, they will be allowed to come to the UK. (Paragraph 64)

12.Afghanistan was, and remains, a highly dangerous place, and we note that, aside from the FCO’s travel advice, the Home Office has also drawn attention to the potential threats that face civilians working for Governmental, civil society and international organisations. In this context, a scheme to protect former LECs is of the utmost importance. (Paragraph 68)

13.The first priority of any Intimidation Scheme should be to ensure the safety of individuals, particularly those who have put their own lives on the line when serving for, and alongside, UK forces. However, as it currently exists, the Afghan Intimidation Scheme appears to go to considerable lengths to preclude the relocation to the UK of interpreters and other locally employed civilians who have reported threats and intimidation. Instead, the scheme has prioritised internal relocation and personal security measures, with admission to the UK treated as an absolutely last resort. The result is that not one person has been relocated to the UK under the current Intimidation Scheme. (Paragraph 69)

14.It is impossible to reconcile the generous provisions of the Redundancy Scheme, which have allowed the relocation of 1150 Afghan interpreters, other LECs and dependents to enter the UK, with an Intimidation Scheme that has not admitted anyone at all. While we do not criticise the generosity of the Redundancy Scheme—which may well have saved many LECs from vengeance by the Taliban—we strongly suspect that the Afghan Government is reluctant to acknowledge that the country is too dangerous to guarantee the safety of local people who helped the NATO mission to combat the Taliban. (Paragraph 70)

15.Given our Government’s own stark assessment of the perilous Afghan security situation, the idea that no interpreters or other former LECs have faced threats and intimidation warranting their relocation to the UK is totally implausible. (Paragraph 71)

16.Much has been made of the need to avoid a supposed ‘brain drain’ as a major obstacle to a more generous Intimidation Scheme. This is completely disingenuous. If the ‘brightest and the best’ have to go into hiding, their brains will hardly be available for the advancement of Afghan national development. Moreover, the ‘brain drain’ avoidance argument, if genuine, should also have precluded hundreds of Afghan LECs being relocated to the UK under the Redundancy Scheme; yet that was allowed to proceed without objection. (Paragraph 72)

17.The fate of interpreters and other locally employed civilians, who bravely served UK forces, and who now fear for their lives, should not be dependent on the wishes of the Afghan Government to deny the reality of the threats which they face. We have a duty of care to those who risked everything to help our armed forces in Afghanistan. (Paragraph 73)

18.We, therefore, strongly agree with Baroness Coussins and Lord Stirrup that there is room for a looser and more sympathetic approach to the application of the Intimidation Scheme, though we accept that the current security situation in Afghanistan makes it difficult to verify the authenticity of threats. We accept that many people at risk of intimidation may have been relocated already under the Redundancy Scheme; but its cut-off date, whilst reasonable from the perspective of redundancy, risks excluding those employed too early to qualify, who are yet at risk of Taliban vengeance. Such people can be saved only by the proper application of the—hitherto useless—Intimidation Scheme. (Paragraph 74)

19.The Government should therefore invite the LEC Assurance Committee to consider how to apply the existing terms and conditions of the Intimidation Scheme in a looser and more sympathetic way. In doing so, the Assurance Committee and the MoD should look at the policies adopted by other ISAF countries, such as the capped visa programme used by the USA. As part of this work, the Government should move away from its ‘relocation in extremis’ policy and adopt a more needs-based approach to the Intimidation Scheme. Otherwise, the scheme will continue to lack all credibility. (Paragraph 75)

Published: 26 May 2018