Simon Diggins

We need to act now to save the army’s Afghan interpreters

In July 2010, near the end of my two-year tour as defence attaché in Kabul, I was phoned by the commander of our field hospital in Camp Bastion. ‘Simon’, he said. ‘We’ve an interpreter here, a triple amputee, and we can’t do anything more for him – we’re a field hospital, and don’t do definitive care.’ I was puzzled. ‘Surely, you just evacuate him back to Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham, like all our other badly wounded soldiers, and they can look after him there?’ He explained that he couldn’t – the Home Office was worried that the interpreter, or his companion, might claim asylum.

This began my involvement in the scandal of the way Britain has treated Afghan interpreters who served alongside the British army. These interpreters were essential to our operation in Afghanistan, and they risked their lives on a daily basis trying to help our troops. Now, they face being killed by the Taliban as they gain ground in Afghanistan, unless Britain changes its policies and allows them all to flee to the UK.

Given that denying someone sanctuary may well lead to their death at the hands of the Taliban, this is an unacceptable situation.

The position of interpreters who helped Britain could not be more perilous. These individuals are seen by the Taliban and Isis not only as traitors to Afghanistan but also, because they supported the ‘kufr’ (the infidel), as traitors to Islam as well. Over 300 interpreters have been murdered by the Taliban since 2014. Many more have been intimidated out of their homes or – because the Taliban often wreak revenge on their families as well – been thrown out by their communities. In some cases, Britain has, in effect, colluded in this by encouraging interpreters to move to Kabul, claiming that they ‘could hide in plain sight’ in a city of 5 million, ignoring the way that Kabul itself is segregated along ethnic lines, which makes hiding almost impossible.

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