Other nations are showing the way, with compassion and respect
Britain’s response to the plight of Iraqi interpreters is a raw deal when compared with other countries in the same position: Australia, Denmark and the United States. The Australians and Danes top the table, flying interpreters and other staff to their respective countries directly from Iraq.
Britain offers this only to a limited group. The majority of applicants must go via a third country where they are required to apply for refugee status with the United Nations. There is no mandatory length of service for those employed by the Australian forces, in contrast to the British scheme, which requires a continuous 12 months of work during any period since the start of 2005. This immediately excludes hundreds of people who are arguably in as much danger as anyone who meets the clause.
Underlining the cumbersome nature of Britain’s aid, Australia, which announced its scheme only in April, has already started to put the policy into action. Conversely Britain, which announced its programme eight months ago, has so far relocated only three workers and their families. In addition, anyone who gains asylum in Australia has a choice of locations, unlike in Britain, where Iraqis are sent to Glasgow. The Danish Government merely requires an applicant to have his or her security compromised because of an association with Danish forces — not a huge hurdle in a country where many who worked for the coalition are viewed by militias as traitors or spies.
A telephone call or e-mail to the Danish Embassy in Baghdad sets the process in motion, with the applicant interviewed in Iraq and, if accepted, flown to Denmark with his or her family to be resettled. Last year Denmark flew almost 400 people to Copenhagen to apply for asylum. Australia expects to hand out up to 600 visas.
The US, by far the biggest employer of Iraqis, began a programme in 2006 to help interpreters or translators who worked for US forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Bush Administration was criticised for making the system too complicated and restricting it to a maximum of 50 people per financial year. In response, President Bush increased the quota to 500 people for last year and this year but the quota will fall back to 50 in October 2009.
The process requires more paperwork than the Danish or Australian schemes but Washington has just opened its first office in Baghdad for Iraqis seeking asylum. The US also gives help to anyone who has worked for a US media organisation in Iraq. Britain has yet to grant such rights.