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Hundreds of Iraqi Interpreters Denied Chance to Live in UK

Michael Evans and Deborah Haynes

Hundreds of Iraqi interpreters employed by the British Armed Forces in Iraq are being rejected after applying to live in Britain for their own safety.0109 08Out of 700 who have now applied through the Ministry of Defence for the special settlement scheme announced by the Government last year, 300 have been rejected already, the MoD said yesterday.

Only 170 have been told they are eligible, and the rest are being processed. Successful applicants will be allowed to bring their closest dependants, including grandparents, if the Home Office accepts them as refugees.

An additional 180 Iraqis have applied through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office because they worked at the British Embassy in Baghdad or at other diplomatic missions. Of these, 38 have been turned down either for the settlement deal or for the alternative financial assistance package, The Times has learnt.

Defence sources said applicants were failing to meet the Government's strict eligibility conditions under which ex-Iraqi employees are required to prove 12 months of continuous employment with the British forces.

More than two million people have fled Iraq since the US-led invasion, according to the UN Refugee Agency, and another 2.2 million have been displaced within Iraq. Tens of thousands have applied to resettle in the US and Europe. Many of those who worked for the British and Americans claim they have been identified as collaborators by militants.

In a sign that prospects may be improving in Iraq, the sources said that 32 locally employed Iraqis who worked for the British had opted to take a cash payment and stay in Iraq rather than move to Britain. However, it is likely the bureaucratic hurdles are another key factor. To be eligible for the scheme, applicants have to go to a third country to present their case.

Interpreters have also faced grave danger in pursuing their claims for asylum. Raed al-Khazraji, an interpreter for the British Army who left his job two years ago after threats to his family, ventured to the British base in Basra on December 23 to put his case for resettlement. Friends say he was seized by militants as he left the base. His body was found the next day.

The circumstances surrounding his disappearance are impossible to verify, and the British Army said it employed no person of that name. However, it is not unusual for Iraqis to use fake IDs for work to protect their families.

Yesterday two former army officers who worked closely with Iraqi interpreters in southern Iraq urged the Government to be more flexible.

Ex-Captain James Milton, 32, who was second in command of the interpreters section in Basra between September 2004 and April 2005, told The Times: "I can't think of a more clear-cut case where we owe a duty of care to the Iraqis who went out with us every day in Basra and then went home every night in the same areas, risking their lives and the lives of their families. They have every right to be given preferential treatment."

Ex-Major Justin Featherstone, 38, who commanded Y Company 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment in al-Amarah in 2004 during an eruption of Shia militia violence, said: "For $8 to $18 a day they put their lives in danger on our behalf."

Financial aid

- Package on offer to Iraqi interpreters employed by the British is one month's salary for every two months employed, up to a maximum of 12 months' pay

- Most interpreters would receive about $9,180 (£4,650)

- They are also eligible for an additional 10 per cent of that sum for each of up to five dependants

- With this, the man of the house could buy a car and start a taxi service

- He could afford to set up a small shop

- The family could live off that money for one year in Basra without the man of the house needing to work

- The family could use the money to drive to Syria and live off the money for six months

Sources: MoD; Times archive

© 2007 Times Online

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