November 27, 2007

Letting them die

Dan Hardie writes [and please do cut and paste this to your blog too]:
I’ve had emails from three people who claim to be - and who almost certainly are - Iraqi former employees of the British Government. All three say that they and their former colleagues are still at risk of death for their ‘collaboration’.

We’ll call the first man Employee One. He worked for the British for three years: ‘I started in the beginning of the war with Commandos (in 30 of March 2003) then continued with 23 Pioneer Regt, and in 08 / 07 / 2003 I have joined the Labour Support Unit (LSU)’. His British friends knew him as Chris.

The British Government has announced that he can apply for help if he can transport himself to the British base outside Basra, or to the Embassies in Syria or Jordan. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that there might be problems with this.

I can email and telephone this man: so can any Foreign Office official. It should not be impossible to verify his story and then send him the funds he needs to get to a less unsafe Arab country. But that is not happening.

Here’s an email exchange we had the other day. My questions are in italics.

1) Are you still in Iraq?

‘Yes, I’m still hidden in somewhere in the hell of Basra.’

2) Is there any reason you cannot travel to the British Army base at Basra Airbase to ask for asylum?

‘Of course, we cannot travel to BIA (Basra International Airbase) due to the militia keep watched all the ways to BIA and they got their own fake check points there although, we claimed for asylum through the internet (we sent our application to the claim office at BIA) . But we afraid that the British are going to take a long time to process our claims also we are very worried if they will offer just some money instead of asylum, please sir inform all the British people that we looking for asylum and just the asylum will save our lives, also we can’t travel to Syria anymore to claim for asylum there as the Syrian government issued new conditions for Iraqis who want to travel to their country.’

3) Can you tell me how and when the militias threatened you?

‘In 2006 I have threatened by militia that hated me because I work and help coalition forces in Iraq, I told my bosses about that but they said we can’t do anything for you because we have nothing to do with civilian and we don’t have any army rules or orders to help you, then I continued my daily work with British army, few days later the militia attacked my house trying to catch me but I was at the work at that time, they beaten my family and told them: we want your son or we will kill all of you!!!! ‘Since that day I decided to leave my job and change my home place but until this moment the militia trying to find and kill me, I’m always changing my place trying to hidden from them, they know that I left my job but they don’t care, they just want to kill me they called me collaborator and traitor and they asked everybody know me about my place, they told them: anyone know anything about (name) he should tell us immediately and also they said: we will never give up until we catch (name). They work for ministry of interior so they controlled most of government departments and they work under that cover.’

4) Do you have any family members who are also threatened by militias or who depend on you? If so, how many of them are there and how old are they? ’Of course, my family depends on me especially in the finance side as I’m the older son between seven sons and daughters they got, on other hand my parents cannot working as they are very old.’

Employee Two is in Syria, and is applying for aid from the British Embassy in Damascus. He can prove that he has worked for the British for over 12 months, after the magic date of 1st January 2005.

But he still isn’t safe. He is staying illegally in Syria, having considerably over-run the 15-day visa on which he entered the country. He’s been obliged to get forms for asylum or resettlement aid from the Syrian Government security men who guard the British Embassy.

He tells me ‘If I see any syrian officer i really get fear , becuase of my expired visa.’ The British Government, which asked us to accept that it was invading Iraq in part because of its horror at the brutality of the Ba’athist dictatorship, is now perfectly happy to leave its own former employees to the mercies of Syrian Ba’athists.

Colleagues of this man are also hiding in Damascus and are even worse off than he is, because they don’t meet the perverse and arbitrary time stipulations. He writes: ’I know 4 former interpreters worked less than a year (for the British: DH), but they went to the embassy and they filled the paper with out telling the guards we had worked for less than a year. The syrian guards have got instructions from the embassy (British Embassy in Damascus: DH), that (they) do not give that form to any interpreter who worked for British less than a year or any former interpreter who worked in 2003 and fled to syria before 2005.’

Employee Three sent me copies of his Army ID card and photos of him with smiling Scottish soldiers. He worked for the Army in 2003, who then recommended that he work for Erinys- a private security firm which the British Government hired to form an Oil Protection Force. Yes, a mercenary firm: a mercenary firm hired by our Government and paid for with our money. Both when working for the Army and when working for the British Government’s proxies, he was identified as a target by the militias.

The British Government made him a death squad target. That same British Government will not be giving him any kind of assistance; not even a small cash handout to help him live elsewhere in the Middle East. It has announced that it will not help any Iraqi whose direct employment ended before the 1st January 2005: that Johnson Beharry was awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of courage in May and June 2004, when the Mahdi Army attacked the British and were fought off with many hundreds of casualties.

You’ve heard this before, but it’s now more important than ever. The last lot of letters and emails got the Government to announce a change in policy: an inadequate change,badly implemented. The next lot of letters and emails will force the Government to announce another change in policy, one that will be properly implemented and will not be based on leaving people to die.

Your MP’s address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. His or her email address is probably [email protected] (eg [email protected] ). Please use the talking points below to send an email and a print letter to your MP, and chase them for an answer. And be courteous: an insulted MP will not raise this matter with Ministers, and that will lead to more avoidable deaths.

When you get an answer, email me at [email protected] and let me know what they said. I agree that it seems egocentric for me to ask you to put your MP in touch with me: but what alternatives do we have?

I am in direct contact with Iraqi employees pleading with me to do something to help them. I cannot help them. Members of Parliament- including David Miliband- need to read what these Iraqis are saying.

Talking points
On October 9th David Miliband announced that the British Government would assist former employees in Iraq, so long as they had worked for it after 1st January 2005 and for 12 months or more. That abandons several hundred Iraqis who have been targetd for murder because they worked for the British before that date- and in 2004 fighting between the Mahdi Army and the British was at its peak- or because they worked for less than that period, often leaving their jobs at the end of a British battalion’s six-month tour. The British Government must help Iraqi employees on the basis of the risk they face, not according to an arbitrary time stipulation. This only affects a few hundred Iraqis, whom we are well able to shelter, and for whom we have a direct moral responsibility.

Even those Iraqi employees who qualify for assistance are not being properly assisted. Iraqis in Basra are not able to apply via the British Army in Basra Interational Airbase, since it is ringed with militia checkpoints. Iraqi ex-employees in Damascus are being screened by Syrian policemen guarding the British Embassy and delayed by lengthy bureaucratic procedures when they apply for asylum, although many of them are illegally overstaying their Syrian visas and face deportation back to Iraq.

A blogger called Dan Hardie is directly in touch with a number of Iraqi employees via email and phone. He is willilng to brief MPs - as concisely as possible - either over the phone or via email. He can be reached at [email protected]

Footnote re authenticity: The ISPs confirm that one email was definitely sent from Damascus, the others from satellite networks serving the Middle East including Iraq. I have spoken to two of them on the phone, using Iraqi telephone numbers. (Many thanks to Alex Harrowell and Surreptitious Evil for their work on this.) A Times journalist in the region tells me that ’Employee One’ and ’Employee Two’ are certainly authentic: she has been in contact with them herself. The other has sent me scanned copies of his British Army IDs, and photographs of him with smiling soldiers, as well as a lengthy reference from Erinys. He either is who he says he is, or has stolen the documents of the man he is claiming to be: and given that he names soldiers who know him, and will have to turn up in person and be photographed to claim asylum at a British Embassy, he would have no chance of perpetrating a successful fraud.

Footnote re the wider refugee crisis: Conceivably the Sunni-Shi’ite violence in the American-occupied areas of Iraq is diminishing: this story, quoting Iraqi Governmentsources, argues that it is, though the Iraqi Government has a vested interest in claiming an improvement. In response, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees argues that there has been no improvement . But even if the UNHCR is wrong, the Iraqi Government is right and things have got better for refugees from Baghdad and neighbouring areas that is, sadly, irrelevant to Britain’s employees in the South of the country. What’s still the case is that Basra is now effectively under the control of various Shi’ite groups who have varying amounts of loathing for the British and their Iraqi employees, and that one of the most powerful is the Mahdi Army, who fought several outright battles against British troops and have a long track record of killing ‘Locally Employed Civilians’.

November 27, 2007 in Iraqi workers asylum campaign | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 17, 2007

An Iraqi interpreter writes...

The Iraqi workers asylum campaign gathers pace with another article in today's Times and an event planned at the Houses of Parliament on 9 October. When the campaign started we got the obligatory Facebook group going (there are, in fact two) and now an Iraqi interpreter has posted his story to the 'wall'.

Ibrahim posted in message-sized chunks but I've reproduced it here in one piece.

Aimen Al-Ibrahim:

"I want to say something in brief.

"I used to work as Interpreter/Translator and cultural advisor for the MNF-I in Basrah represented by the British Forces, my contract was directly with the British Ministry of Defence. I worked from July 2003 till Dec 2006, I have no regret in working for the British Forces and for MNF in general, I worked in many sensitive places with commanders from MNF and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).I participated in many operations, courses, trainings, raids and other classified things I can not say with American, British, Italian, Dutch and Danish forces in the south of Iraq. I faced many dangerous and threats, in addition to face risk shoulder by shoulder with Coalition Forces I faced troubles and threatens as traitor and spy for the foreign as the insurgents and militias claims. Being from Sunni minority in basrah (the majority is Shia) put me in another risk.

"I have been threatened and my family house has been attacked. I had to make my family traveled to another place and I moved to Jordan where I am seeking for Asylum now.

"I worked for more than three years for the British and most important for my Iraqi people but Iraq is not safe for me or my family anymore, I can not settle in Jordan for many reasons, Jordanian Government does not accept Iraqis, I am a traitors in the eyes of people of Jordan who are well known as Saddam supporters and I am illegal in Jordan and have no idea when Jordanian authorities decided to enforce me and people like me to return to Iraq.

"Even though I consider myself in a better situation than my family who left in Iraq. I applied for an American system called "resettlement in the US for former MNF translators" and this program is taking too much time, I applied two months ago and did not heard from them since.

"I contacted the British MoD when I was in my job asking if the British Government intends to issue a scheme of Special Immigration like the American for its Interpreters but the answer was Britain has no intention to do same, I contacted them in Nov 2006 and got the answer in March 2007.

"If the US government accepted to give me the right of resettled in USA that will be shame for the British Government because I did not work for them directly. I still have the respect to all to the men and women I worked with. Those from many nationality and races who have the will to make the Iraqi nation live in peace, those who left their families and countries behind disregarding all the risk to start over the future of Iraq.

"I am more worry of myself than my family, my family which consists of father, mother, 2 sisters, 2 brothers, aunt and disable old sick grandmother. Even if I granted the resettlement to the US all of these people will stay in Iraq without protection and without someone care about them

"I hope someone can pass my voice and my problem to the British and American authorities and I am sure they are able to do something."

September 17, 2007 in Iraqi workers asylum campaign | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 20, 2007

Sadiq Khan MP writes (and not only to me)

After a few bitten nails and a gentle prod via his website, I've received a reply from Sadiq Khan, Labour MP for Tooting. To be fair, though, it is summer and MPs do get a lot of letters so fair play to him.

Khan has also written to both Liam Byrne at the Home Office and Kim Howells at the FCO on behalf of me (and others who've written too, it seems).

Dear Mr Timothy Aldrich

Thank you for taking the time to write to me twice with regards to the asylum status of Iraqi interpreters.

I do very much appreciate your concern on this matter ; as you may know I was a practicing Human Rights lawyer before entering Parliament and this continues to underline my work as an MP. I do therefore think it is very important that we ensure that asylum decisions are just and right.

I know that the Government is very grateful for the service of locally employed staff in Iraq and take their security very seriously and recognises that there are concerns about the safety of former employees. Since the Government keeps all such issues under review, I understand that they have decided to look again at the assistance provided for Iraqi staff. At least 15,000 Iraqis with a claim to assistance have worked for us since 2003 and it is therefore of course important that the options are considered carefully.

I welcome the Government's decision to review the situation and am writing to confirm that I have now made the enclosed representation on your behalf to both the Foreign and Home Office asking that the relevant people are granted asylum. I expect to receive a response within the proceeding weeks which I will, of course, forward onto you.

In the meantime if you have any further concerns please do not hesitate to make contact.

Yours sincerely,

Sidiq Khan
MP for Tooting

And then there are the identical letters to Howells and Byrne:

Dear Kim/Liam [respectively]

I have received correspondence from my constituents regarding the asylum status of Iraqi interpreters and translators who have worked for British troops. I enclose samples of their correspondence [not cced to me, naturally - TA].

As you will see, my constituents are extremely concerned that Iraqis are not being granted asylum in the UK despite their working for the British Government putting them in real and immediate danger.

My constituents fell that the UK is not offering these Iraqi workers protection amounts to a rejection of our responsibility towards them which has 'deep moral and practical implications'.

I understand the Government is reviewing its position on this matter and I would urge you to take my constituents thoughts into consideration when coming to a decision.

Please let me have your comments in the form of a letter which I can forward on to my constituent [sic].

Many thanks for your assistance with this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Sadiq Khan
MP for Tooting

So, there it is then.

In the meantime, if you haven't written to your MP visit and do sign the petition at 10 Downing Street

I have some thoughts on this but will collect them first before putting finger to pad.

August 20, 2007 in Iraqi workers asylum campaign | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack