Defence Secretary signals climbdown on plans to charge Afghan interpreters who served with British forces thousands of pounds to stay in UK
- Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has intervened in Afghan interpreter row
- Scores of those who served with UK forces face paying for right to remain in UK
- Ministry of Defence and Home Office thought to be close to deal to waive fees
The Defence Secretary today insisted Afghan interpreters who served alongside British troops should be allowed to stay in the UK.
Gavin Williamson intervened in the row after it emerged many of those who helped with the fight against the Taliban face being ejected from the UK unless they pay the government over £2,000.
More than 150 interpreters have written to the Home Secretary complaining that they are being asked for thousands of pounds to secure an indefinite right to remain in the UK.
Gavin Williamson, pictured visiting a military exercise in Salisbury, has intervened in the row over Afghan interpreters’ right to remain in the UK
Mr Williamson chatted with troops after he watched them on exercises in Salisbury today
Handed a five-year visa to seek sanctuary in Britain in 2014 – which is set to expire next year – the interpreters said the Home Office has yet to confirm if they can stay, leaving them ‘in limbo’.
But Mr Williamson told the BBC: ‘These are people who have served alongside our armed forces and they have done so much … so we have made it absolutely clear they should be staying in this country.’
It is understood an agreement is close between the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office to waive the charges and allow them to remain in the UK.
Mr Williamson said: ‘We want to do everything we can do to make sure they are able to do that, and we have been in touch with the Home Office making that position clear, and I am quite confident the Home Office will be supporting us and making sure that happens as quickly as possible.’
The interpreters were allowed into the UK under a five-year relocation scheme and once it expires they will need to apply for indefinite leave which would incur the fee. It applies to those who served in 2012.
Mr Williamson said the ‘key’ issue is that the interpreters have been asked to pay the fees which he said is ‘not right’, adding: ‘We are making sure that is going to be resolved because they have every right to be here.’
The letter from the interpreters reads: ‘We took great risk because we believed in the integrity of the British Army, only to be let down by politicians who see us as (a) number and not as people who have sacrificed more for this country than many of its citizens.’
Many of the Afghan interpreters served alongside British troops fighting the Taliban in Helmand (pictured are members of 42 Royal Marines in the province in 2007)
Mr Williamson was watching Joint Warrior, one of the largest exercises of its kind in Europe, involving nearly 12,000 military personnel from 17 nations
Those who have signed the letter state that they have been told to pay £2,389 per person – a sum they say is ‘so great it is unaffordable for many’, with many of their wives and children also told they cannot join them in Britain.
The letter also highlights how those translators whose children have been born in the UK are struggling to obtain documentation for them – and may have to pay £1,200 to apply for a British visa and Afghan passport.
Mr Williamson said British troops have worked ‘hand in glove’ with the brave translators and said he knows ‘everyone across government will be working with us to get this matter resolved as swiftly as possible’.
He said he would be ‘amazed’ if they were kicked out of Britain, stating they ‘have every right to be here’.
‘We have a personal duty to do the right thing by them and I know that is something that is felt right across government,’ he added.
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