Plans to rapidly relocate hundreds more Afghans who worked for the British military and UK government, mostly as interpreters, have been announced. It includes family members, more than 3,000 Afghans are expected to be allowed to settle in the UK, joining 1,300 who have already done so. The decision comes amidst fears for their safety as international troops prepare to leave the country.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it was only right to accelerate the plans. He added that those being relocated were those that might otherwise be at risk of reprisals from the Taliban.
The issue has been a concern since British forces ended combat operations in Helmand in 2014 – with troops who served there being amongst the most vocal in their support for measures to protect people who assisted them during their deployment.
Earlier schemes applied strict criteria on who could apply for a new life in the UK and considered the Afghans’ length of service and precise roles. For instance favouring interpreters who worked with British troops on the frontline in Helmand for more than a year.
But under new government policy, any current or former locally employed staff who are assessed to be under serious threat to life will be offered priority relocation to the UK – regardless of their employment status, rank or role or length of time served.
The government said this was done to reflect the fact that the security situation in Afghanistan has changed and acknowledges the potential risk to local staff who have worked for the UK government and military over the past 20 years. The scheme, the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy, was set up on 1st April.
Home Secretary, Priti Patel described the move as a moral obligation. In a statement, the government said, 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.
It is not yet clear precisely how many Afghans will be relocated to the UK, but the government says it is expecting more than 3,000 to be resettled.
Although it will cast a wider net than previous schemes did, not everyone who worked for the British will be eligible to apply.