UK immigration grants some Afghan interpreters right to settle

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The UK immigration minister, Mark Harper, has announced a range of changes to the Immigration Rules which should come into force on 1st October 2013. Among the main changes is a decision to allow some 'locally engaged staff in Afghanistan' (including interpreters) to relocate to the UK. It is not clear how many staff will be able to settle in the UK.

The UK has faced calls to allow Afghans who worked for the UK armed forces in Afghanistan, whether as interpreters or in other roles, to settle in the UK. Many Afghan staff members have been killed by Taliban revenge attacks. Even some family members of Afghan staff have been killed. Many have expressed fears that, when the UK forces finally leave Afghanistan, the situation will become even more dangerous for those known to have worked for the UK.

In June 2013, the UK's Defence Minister Philip Hammond announced a '£60m package' that would allow 3,000 Afghan workers considered to be at especially high risk of being killed to settle in the UK. Only those who were working directly for the UK on 19 December 2012 (and had been working for over a year) qualified.

Most staff denied right to settle in UK

However, most of the former staff were denied the right to settle in the UK. They were offered either five years of training with financial support in Afghanistan or 18-months' salary. Resettlement in the UK was reserved for a minority of what was considered to be high-risk cases.

This 'package' was criticised by representatives of Afghan staff as being 'insufficient and arbitrary'. Critics of the proposal said that if they were not allowed to leave Afghanistan, the former employees would be in constant danger.

Rosa Curling from the solicitors firm Leigh Day and Co, which represents some Afghan staff, also complained that those former employees who failed to qualify for any assistance at all would also be at risk. There are many who do not qualify under the scheme because they did not work for the UK Armed Forces on 19th December 2012 or because they worked for less than a year. She said 'The Taliban do not determine who to target by their commencement or redundancy dates'.

60,000 urge UK government not to send Afghans 'to their deaths'

On August 14th 2013, a 60,000 signature petition was handed into the Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street pressing him to improve the offer to Afghan staff. The petitioners reminded the prime minister of the 'huge debt' owed by the UK to interpreters and others who have worked for UK Forces in Afghanistan. They also said that the local Afghan workers would be 'sent to their deaths' if they were not offered asylum.

Mr Harper did not say how many Afghans would be allowed to settle in the UK so there is no indication as to whether the government has been swayed by the petition.

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