‘It’s a life without any hope. It’s full of fear and you’re basically waiting to be targeted at any time’
Thousands of Afghans who worked for the British military, mostly as interpreters, are to be resettled in the UK.
More than 3,000 will relocate in the coming months as fears for their safety grow with international troops preparing to leave the country.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that under the terms of the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap), Afghan staff who worked for the UK government will see their applications to settle in Britain “rapidly accelerated”.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace added it was “only right” to do so due to interpreters being “at risk of reprisals” from the Taliban.
He said: “This is allowing people a route to the United Kingdom for safety, the people who supported the British armed forces and the British government over many, many years in Afghanistan who feel they are in danger and it’s absolutely right that we stand by those people.
“It’s my duty as defence secretary, I believe, to do the right thing by these people, and when they come here they will be supported and I very much hope that the British population also supports them, because these people have taken great risks very often to protect the men and women of our armed forces.”
More than 1,400 Afghans and their families have already relocated to the UK, and hundreds more have received funding for education and training.
A large number of interpreters were not eligible under the earlier scheme, which considered an applicant’s role and length of service, but now any current or former locally employed staff member deemed to be under serious threat will be offered priority relocation in the UK.
This will be regardless of their employment status, role, rank or length of service, and the scheme will be open for applications even after British troops have left Afghanistan.
Mr Wallace said people arriving would be offered help with housing and other needs, similar to services available to refugees.
“Following the decision to begin the withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan, the prime minister has agreed with the Ministry of Defence, Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to rapidly accelerate applications through the policy,” the government said in a statement.
Around 750 British troops remain in Afghanistan, most of them providing security in Kabul, but their departure was hurried when the US announced it was withdrawing by 11 September.
An Afghan interpreter, who moved to the UK under the scheme, spoke to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning.
“It’s a life without any hope,” he said, when asked what it was like remaining in the country having worked for the UK government. “It’s full of fear and you’re basically waiting to be targeted at any time.”
Veteran army officer Ed Aitken, founder of the Sulha Alliance campaign group, appeared on the show later to lend his support to the scheme but warned that there was a “low bar” for rejecting those who previously risked their lives to support British troops.
“We are pleased with where we are but there are concerns there are some glaring gaps where there are going to be parts of this community who are left vulnerable and won’t be included under this policy,” Mr Aitken, who undertook two tours of Helmand Province, told the BBC.
Those dismissed from their post, which amounted to 1,010 of those employed – “around 35 per cent”, according to Mr Aitken – will not be eligible for relocation except on a case-by-case basis.
Describing the scale of those who had their employment terminated as “a problem with HR management”, he added: “If you compare the bar for asylum seekers to be rejected from asylum in the UK, the bar is incredibly high.
“Now if you compare that bar for rejecting Afghan interpreters, it is clearly trying to be set quite low, the idea that minor offences [can prevent access to the scheme].”
Additional reporting by PA