Leading former generals have warned “time is of the utmost essence” to help Afghans who served alongside British forces to settle in the UK.
More than 40 former military commanders have signed an open letter calling for efforts to resettle Afghan interpreters in the UK to be stepped up in the face of a “resurgent Taliban”.
Those who have signed the letter include leading former military commanders Lord Dannatt, Lord Boyce and Lord Houghton.
Former national security adviser Lord Ricketts is also a signatory, as is Plymouth Moor View MP Johnny Mercer, a former defence minister who also served in Helmand Province.
The letter reads: “We remain gravely concerned about the situation faced by our former interpreters and the supporting staff who stood shoulder to shoulder with us on the battlefield, despite recent initiatives from the Government.”
Co-ordinated by the Sulha Alliance, the letter described the existing Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) as a “positive step” and said there has been “evident hard work” in helping former interpreters through this.
But it added the policy is not “being conducted with the necessary spirit of generosity required to protect our former colleagues from an indiscriminate and resurgent Taliban”, saying that “far too many applications” to settle in the UK are currently being rejected.
The Sulha Alliance, a campaign group set up by veteran Army officer Ed Aitken, has previously welcomed Arap, but the campaign says “significantly more” interpreters and other civilians who helped British forces need to be granted the right to live in the UK.
Its letter concludes: “Time is of the utmost essence to save the lives of those who served alongside our servicemen and women in Afghanistan and who saved countless British lives. It is clear there is insufficient capacity for Arap to cope with the scale and pace required.
“If any of our former interpreters are murdered by the Taliban in the wake of our withdrawal, the dishonour would lay squarely at our nation’s feet. Arap is not providing the sanctuary that the British public have been led to believe is being granted to our former Afghan interpreters and colleagues.
“Too many of our former interpreters have unnecessarily and unreasonably been rejected from relocation to safety in the UK and we strongly urge that the policy is reviewed again immediately, to ensure more are given sanctuary.
“The current policy discriminates against the 35% of staff dismissed from service for various reasons without any due process or ability to appeal their dismissal. We urge the Government to amend the policy so that all former interpreters are offered the chance to be resettled to the UK unless it is proven that they have committed such an offence that constitutes a threat to national security.”
More than 2,200 Afghans and their families have already relocated to the UK, and hundreds more received funding for education and training.
In May, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace approved an acceleration of the relocation scheme amid fears for the safety of those who helped the UK as international troops began preparations to leave Afghanistan.
Including the workers’ family members, some 3,000 more Afghans are expected to settle in the UK under the plan.
An MoD spokesman said: “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to interpreters who risked their lives working alongside UK forces in Afghanistan, and the Government has already supported over 2,200 former Afghan staff and their families in creating new lives in the UK.
“Nobody’s life should be put at risk because they supported the UK Government to bring peace and stability. We are the only nation with a permanent expert team based in Kabul to investigate claims from courageous local staff who are threatened as a result of their work with the UK.”