Afghanistan, conflict, army

Supporting interpreters in conflict zones: Has the situation improved?

Nearly a year and a half ago, in August 2016, eSense Translations wrote about the role of interpreters in conflict zones. The U.K.’s presence in Afghanistan has long been diminished, but has the support for these interpreters, who assisted during this conflict, improved? Following recent reports on the topic, eSense Translations revisits this question.

The official exit of British troops from Afghanistan was in October 2014, however since then a small number of troops have been redeployed there on an ‘advisory mission only’ and even as recently as October last year, the U.K. was experiencing pressure from the US to send troops back in.

Interpreters, who work alongside the troops, played a vital role not only in communication, but also the understanding of the local culture, as previously discussed. Unfortunately, this contribution does not seem to have been valued by the U.K. government and the interpreters have still received little to no support since the requirement for their services ceased and they have been left in difficult and often dangerous positions.

The Times reported only this month that valued, long-standing conflict interpreters have been refused entry into the country and that others are facing deportation. The specifications laid out for interpreters to qualify for relocation to the U.K. seem illogical and somewhat irrelevant. For example, the interpreters had to have worked in the Helmand province, when interpreters were being used in Kabul under equally dangerous situations. It is not just the danger that they faced at the time of interpreting that should be accounted for. Many interpreters, who assisted the British army, are still receiving threats and intimidation against themselves and their family members. ‘Revenge killings,’ like those experienced in Iraq, may be on the horizon if our government does not act to help these individuals and remove them from the threat of the Taliban or Islamic State.

It is not only a moral obligation of ours to assist these interpreters, who have comprised their safety for the cause. Our lack of assistance for these individuals will also affect future recruitment of local interpreters and support staff. The MOD claims to be committed to ensuring the safety of those who served their cause. However, out of the 3,000 local interpreters who served in Afghanistan, as of the end of 2017, only 385 of these staff and their immediate families had been allowed into the country.

In August 2015, the government published a defence against the claims that their help had been limited. Although they argue a case against these claims and do insist that they are helping conflict interpreters who worked in Afghanistan, it still appears that they are reluctant to relocate interpreters to the U.K. Instead, the preference seems to be offering safety in the interpreters’ own country. Furthermore, they insist that the threat that is affecting interpreters, who worked in Afghanistan, is not as severe as those who worked in Iraq and therefore the same response is not necessary. No further official comments could be found since this publication, despite ongoing concern over this situation.

Are the government justified in their decision? If they are actually offering support that is satisfactory, then why is this issue still being brought to our attention? Moreover, one also has to question whether the government’s latest drive to reduce immigration is affecting the decisions they are making.

We welcome your views and experiences. Please share them in the comments below.

By Lorna Paice

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