Afghan interpreters pay a high price for working with the British armed forces. According to recently released Ministry of Defence figures, 21 have been killed and more than 90 injured in the last five years. Interpreters face the same risks of improvised explosive devices and insurgent ambushes as the troops they translate for but they face an additional and serious threat from the Taleban. Many have received death threats from the Taleban because of their work with the UK military and fear for their safety and that of their family when the NATO forces leave Afghanistan. Major Jamie Forbes of the Labour Support Unit said:
"I'd say they're absolutely crucial to glue the whole operation together. Effectively there would be no partnership with the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] or the ANA [Afghan National Army] if they weren't around."
However, Afghan Interpreters are not sufficiently protected by the UK and there are no plans to introduce a scheme to protect their safety through relocation outside of Afghanistan, a scheme which would be similar to the, now-closed, programme for Iraqis who were employed by the UK government for a year or more. An Afghan Interpreter has commented to the press, “we don't have a secure future. The US military has a policy for interpreters but the British don't. I don't have any insurance, I don't have a medical allowance. If something happens to me what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to support my family?" It is not just the Interpreters themselves who believe that the UK has a duty to protect them, Sir Menzies Campbell said "we have a debt of honour and it would be shameful if we did not repay it", while Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy called on the Coalition to look at all the options available.
The British government not only owes a moral debt to Afghan interpreters who have put their lives on the line to assist British troops. It also has clear legal obligations to Afghan interpreters, obligations that it is not honouring. The European Convention on Human Rights requires it to protect the right to life (article 2) and the right to be free from "torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" (article 3) of all Afghan interpreters that it employs. These legal obligations require positive action from the UK government. Afghan Interpreters must be protected inside Afghanistan and their rights must be fully considered and protected when considering their UK Immigration status. Removal from the UK back to Afghanistan cannot take place where there are substantial grounds for believing that Afghan Interpreters face a real risk of mistreatment or attempts on their life. Such a risk is already evident, but it appears that information available to the MoD is not being effectively communicated to the UK Border Agency in its handling of asylum claims.
Public Interest Lawyers have a great deal of experience of challenging the actions of UKBA and the Ministry of Defence through judicial review proceedings. They successfully challenged the handover of Afghan prisoners from UK to Afghan authority in the case of Evans. In Al-Skeini they established the application of the Human Rights Act in conflict situations such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The current conduct of the UK Government in relation to Afghan interpreters warrants a similar challenge.