Three Afghan nationals who worked as interpreters for British forces serving in Afghanistan have issued a high court claim for judicial review against the Secretary of State. The legal action forms part of a dispute over whether such interpreters should have the opportunity to settle in the UK.
The immigration issues of non-British citizens who have served with or alongside Her Majesty’s Forces have caused controversy in the past. In 2008 a campaign to allow a greater number of Ghurka veterans to settle in the UK received widespread media coverage, celebrity support, and the backing of a petition with 250,000 signatories. After much political wrangling the campaign’s aims were reflected in the Immigration Rules and a large group of Ghurka veterans are now eligible to reside in the UK. In 2007 David Miliband launched the Locally Employed Staff Assistance programme offering certain local staff who had worked with forces in Iraq either a financial package or the possibility of resettling in the UK. The programme received criticism from some who claimed that the government was trying to gain political capital from a policy that unfairly restricted those entitled to benefits. The terms of the policy have already been the subject of litigation in the UK courts.
Despite its apparent shortfalls, it is the Iraqi policy which forms the basis of the present litigation. At present Afghan interpreters have no opportunity to settle on an exceptional basis and can only remain in the UK under the Immigration Rules or seek asylum here. The interpreters are arguing that they should be offered the same benefits as their Iraqi counterparts. The legal action will run alongside a political campaign backed by a petition with 77,000 signatories and supported by senior Liberal Democrats including the Deputy Prime Minister, as well as British servicemen who have served in the Afghan conflict.
If the judicial review is successful or if the political campaign continues to gain momentum it is likely to cause problems for a government faced with meeting commitments to both reduce immigration and manage the UK’s legacy in Afghanistan.