Iraqi interpreters – Government set to end help

I’ve blogged a few times about the fantastic campaigning done by Dan Hardie and others to highlight the dangers faced by Iraqis who had worked with our armed forces in Iraq. I sponsored a meeting in Parliament in 2007 and wrote about it:

Mark and Andrew both gave eye witness accounts of what is going on in Iraq and how those who helped us by translating or other service now are being hunted down and killed. It was graphic, appalling and compelling.

These horrors made the mealy-mouthed, half-arsed announcement by G Brown yesterday to allow those who worked for us for more than 12 months some financial (very low) package to resettle and under agreed circumstances admittance to the UK look completely inadequate.

To me, I longed for Gordon just to say what needed to be said – we have a moral responsibility towards you and you are welcome in our country. That’s what Denmark did. In fact Denmark recognising the danger in which their employees now were – flew them and their families out.

Whatever you think of the Iraq war (and I opposed it) – we should look after those we employed. But even the limited amount the Government was willing to do is now coming to an end. As today’s Times puts it,

The Government has been accused of deserting former Iraqi interpreters who risked their lives for Britain, after announcing that it would close its assistance scheme in a fortnight.

Britain’s treatment of the Iraqis was compared last night with that of the Gurkhas as it emerged that scores of families are still living in fear of being murdered by militias who accuse them of collaborating with the enemy.

MPs from all three parties have described the assistance scheme as deliberately restrictive and called for a review…

Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat MP, said: “There are going to be people still in danger. The enemy is still out there. It is mean-spirited.”

The Express also has coverage here.

Fighting 42 days online

I’ve always felt that we bloggers have a little bit of viral campaigning power – but to date – have not really used what we have. There are some honorable and fantastic exceptions – Dan Hardie‘s Iraqi interpreters campaign comes immediately to mind – but not enough.

So – yesterday I invited Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy and a couple of others to meet and discuss what we bloggers who oppose Labour’s plans for 42 days detention without trial could do to stop this hideous legislation. Sunny in turn suggested some other people, and meet together we did.

As I said, we need to stop this legislation – and for that there are three main targets: the Lords, those Labour MPs in the Commons who were reluctant converts to the Government’s line or are wavering, and the wider public – to undermine the faux argument that the public supports 42 days.

On the last – we know that the poll that Gordon Brown prays in aid of put the question pejoratively. Supposing you were asked if 42 days detention without charge was too long a time to hold terrorists without charge. Most would say – of course not. But if you said is 42 days detention without charge too long to hold innocent people – you might get a very different answer!

Sunny is going to lead the charge – as I pointed out best not to have a politician leading as it then stops like-minded people from other parties joining whole-heartedly. This campaign is for anyone from anywhere who wants to fight against the 42 days! He’s written more about it over on Liberal Conspiracy.

Iraqi interpreters update

The indefatigable Dan Hardie has an update on his blog on the shameful way our government has failed to stand by Iraqis who worked with our armed forces. For all Gordon Brown’s fine words in October last year – Dan hasn’t been able to find any Iraqis who have actually been evacuated from Iraq since then.

As to why this matters – here’s what one of the people fearing for their lives says:

They (the militia) keep asking my relatives and my family’s neighbors about me and they keep moving in my family’s street and keep their eyes on our home… they told them: anyone know anything about A__ he should tell us immediately and also they said: we will never give up until we catch A__ .

So – do go read Dan’s post – and then lobby your MP (and, yes, it’s worth doing the lobbying even if your MP is someone like myself who is already supporting the cause – because the more contacts MPs get in total, the more pressure Government Ministers will feel under).

Kim Howells puts the Government's case on Iraqi interpreters

It Helicopter in Iraqcompletely buggered up my going to Pond Square carols on Thursday – which is one of my fav of the year events – but having been trying to get a meeting with Minister Kim Howells about the Iraqi interpreters issue for some time – then when only the day before I was told that a 5.30pm meeting was arranged, that took precedence.

I think it was the powers of persuasion of Chris Bryant (MP for Rhondda, Labour) rather than my that achieved this – but also Ed Vaizey Conservative MP and Dan Hardie – my local constituent who first brought the issue to me and who is at the forefront of this campaign.

The Minister would only see MPs and Ed was unable to come – so myself and Chris put the issues to him. I have abbreviated substantially and just give the essential gist below. The answers are those given in the meeting by Kim Howells – rather than my own view of what the answers should be!

Q. Why had the Government decided that only those Iraqis who had worked for more than 12 months for the British armed forces could qualify for the asylum or resettlement grants?
A. Difficult to draw the line – but must be drawn somewhere otherwise Britain would be open to thousands coming here; 12 months seemed to accommodate most of those at risk.

Q. But why not make a decision based on a risk assessment of an individual’s circumstances rather than impose an arbitrary cut-off date?
A. Too difficult a process in the situation.

Q. Why can’t people who worked for the British armed forces before 1 January 2005 qualify for asylum or resettlement grants?
A. It wasn’t dangerous before then.

Q. Why is the process of helping those who have worked for our armed forces so slow? Time is of the essence when people are in fear of their lives.
A. Because it takes time to do checks before a person is got out of the country, and when they are got out to a third party country there is another delay there whilst their status etc. is sorted.

Q. How long is it between contact by an Iraqi in danger and getting him/her out of the country
A. Three months.

At this point the Minister had to attend the Commons Chamber and the meeting terminated. Kim Howells seemed genuinely committed to trying to get those at risk to safety – but in erring on the side of caution so much it did seem to me that he was getting it wrong.

There would be people whose cases did not neatly fit the guidlines, and the whole process can be terribly slow. When people’s lives are at risk, it is better – far, far better – to err on the side of of saving someone’s life. We live in a world that at times seems obsessed with avoiding any risk – hence all the warnings that packets of nuts may contain nuts, that hot drinks might be hot, and on and on. And yet then when we have lives at risk in this case – suddenly erring on the side of safety doesn’t apply. A mad, mad world!

To be continued…

But in the meantime, there are two things you can do:

  1. There’s an EDM (a sort of Parliamentary petition) you can ask your MP to sign. It’s EDM 401 and you can read it here and see who has signed it.
  2. You can sign the petition at ourcampaign.org.uk/interpreters

(If you’d like some more background on the issue, you can read my recent article on the subject).

Red tape and murder

That’s the title of the latest blog posting from Dan Hardie, the indefatigable blogger on the shameful way in which the British government is turning its back on those Iraqis who work as interpreters for our armed forces over there. As Dan writes:

This comes down to one simple principle: the Iraqis whom our Government should help first are those who are at risk of being murdered for having worked for the British. It is still not too late for the Government to implement this principle. It is administratively possible. It is morally imperative.

And from the Government’s viewpoint, it is now politically advisable: a continued policy of literally niggling people to death, putting bureaucratic obstacles in the way of men and women in fear of their lives for having worked for British troops, will attract nothing but contempt, from the press and the public.

There’s an Early Day Motion in Parliament on this topic; please do ask your MP to sign. It’s EDM 401 and you can read it here and see who has signed it. To contact your MP, just visit www.writetothem.com and pop in your postcode.

Iraqi interpreters: new EDM

I have retabled my EDM calling on the British Government to move further and faster in its help for the Iraqi interpreters – those who helped us and are helping us in Iraq but for whom the consequence of doing so is to be hunted by death squads in Basra.

All EDMs fall at the end of a parliamentary session – which is why I have retabled it for the new session and it is now open for MPs to sign it (whether or not they signed the previous one). Encourage your MP to sign!

It’s EDM 401 and you can read it here and see who has signed it.

If you are not familiar with this issue – here’s what I wrote recently:

Many Iraqis employed by the British are tortured when found by the Iraqi death-squads. Like Haidr al-Mtury, a translator for the British, who had holes drilled into his hands and knees before both legs were broken and acid was poured over his face. Only then did a bullet to the head put an end to his suffering.

You can read the full article here.

Meanwhile – Dan Hardie has a harrowing account of the day-to-day fears for their safety of Iraqis who worked for Britain.

Government’s death sentence for Iraqi employees: a first-hand account

The reality of the Government’s death sentence to Iraqi employees has been really brought home to me by an email sent to me because of my activity on this issue by an Iraqi translator working for the British in Iraq. Because I want to protect him I can’t give too many details but here’s a bit of the email:

I read about you on the internet that you are supported the interpreters asylum matter, so I decided to write about our suffering to you and I appreciate that you are a very busy woman but I trust you to do your best for us and I wish that from you.

He describes his length of service and the job titles (not given to protect). He goes on:

In 2006 I have threatened by militia that hated me because I work and help coalition forces in Iraq, I told my bosses about that but they said we can’t do anything for you because we have nothing to do with civilian and we don’t have any army rules or orders to help you, then I continued my daily work with British army, few days later the militia attacked my house trying to catch me but I was at the work at that time, they beaten my family and told them: we want your son or we will kill all of you!!!!

Since that day I decided to leave my job and change my home place but until this moment the militia trying to find and kill me, I’m always changing my place trying to hidden from them, they know that I left my job but they don’t care, they just want to kill me they called me collaborator and traitorous and they asked everybody know me about my place, they told them: anyone know anything about XXX should tell us immediately and also they said: we will never give up until we catch XXX.

He goes on to say that the Prime Minister’s statement actually attracted more attention by the militia and now they are trying even harder to catch the Iraqi workers; that it is asylum in Britain that they need – not money; and that the British Government processes are too slow and they are facing terrible situations in Basra and could be killed any time.

He goes on with the chilling words:

Madam, I live in a very dangerous situation (it’s like the hell) until this moment the militia keep looking for me trying to kill me because of the kind of my job with British army; they think its VIP job. I can’t even get a job because the militia, I’m jobless since I left my job with British, I’m hidden now but I’m sure one day they will find me because they have many people work under cover for them.

I adjure you to help us, please pass my voice to the British government and please try to put a pressure on the government to do something for us as a quick as possible.

I’m ready to provide you with any thing you need from me.

Well – David Miliband published a Written Ministerial Statement elucidating a bit more and moving a bit on what we Brits are going to do to help those Iraqi workers who worked or are working for us in Iraq and consequently being killed and hunted down for doing so.

The Labour government have behaved appallingly and only after lots of effort on many parts have moved to grudgingly give a package (inadequate) to those in danger. But it doesn’t include their families and it didn’t allow them to come to Britain.

This further statement says they can come – but doesn’t deal with the families, the need for proper contracts with those who work for us, with a webiste, with the slow speed of any package reaching them etc etc.

British forces lives have dependant on the intelligence and work of these Iraqis – the least we can do is repay the favour. The Government is treating these people like they are applying for means tested benefit – not like people who are fleeing for their lives. The 12 months service eligibility criteria is ridiculous. Assessed risk, rather than length of service, should be the main criterion for granting asylum or resettlement packages. The death squads in Iraq don’t stop to ask how long interpreters served for us, so why are we?

Needless to say I will be taking the whole of the email to David Miliband and the Home Secretary to make the case!

(If you want to take action yourself on this – see Dan Haride’s blog and also the Lib Dem Iraqi interpreters site).

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