Skip the first paragraph if you already know about the campaign- otherwise read on. The British Government is currently denying entry to the UK to Iraqis whose lives are threatened for having worked for British diplomats or soldiers. Some have already been murdered: many others have fled their homes and are trying to survive as refugees in Syria or Jordan, where they are turned away from British embassies. A number of bloggers, including myself, regard this as unacceptable. As a first step, we’d like our readers to write to their MPs, perhaps using the talking points laid out here. Some of the articles detailing what is happening to these Iraqis are here, here, here, and here.
All of you can read this paragraph, though you’re not likely to enjoy doing so. Piling on the horrors is this article about the fate of an interpreter working for American troops. Here’s an extract: ‘Living in Baghdad she got one warning note, ignored it, and was gunned down and left for dead by masked men in the alley beside her house just two days later. That was in the Spring of 2004. But May would not die.Whisked to a hospital where her identity as an American translator was revealed, she was declared dead back in her neighborhood for the safety of her family, while in reality she went into hiding.’
And here’s what eventually happened to her, something similar to what has happened to interpreters working for this country: ‘Motherhood is a strong pull though. May would leave the Green Zone fairly often, alone in her car, to go see her children for a few precious hours… While driving through the city to see her kids, May was intercepted and kidnapped by Ansar Al Sunna. Their standard tools are the AK-47, rape, and the power drill (with which they torture their captives, drilling holes through body parts until finishing them off with a drill-bit to the head). The day before the e-mail, the police found the husk of my friend’s body in downtown Baghdad. Ansar Al Sunna had taken full credit.’
Whether you are pro-war or anti-war, the occupation of Iraq was undertaken following a vote by our elected representatives. If people are being murdered for ‘working for the British’, then ‘the British’ must give them refuge.
Physically we are well able to deny these people safety- it is the simplest task to turn them away from our Embassies in Jordan and Syria. Morally, we can only do this if we wish to place ourselves beneath contempt.
Facing up to our specific duties with regards to these people does not excuse us from our wider duties to the Iraqi civilians- or British soldiers- affected by this war. But these current or former employees of Her Majesty’s Government are the people whose lives are now most endangered by our actions in Iraq. Of all our responsibilities, this is the one that must be most urgently fulfilled.
If our Government- if we – can wash our hands of these people then we can, and will, wash our hands of anyone. This must be remembered by anyone refusing to support this campaign on the grounds that it ‘ignores the other Iraqis’. If you haven’t written to your MP, please do so. And please also take a few seconds to sign the Downing Street e-petition here.
Responses from MPs
Given that I’ll be out of the country for work reasons until the middle of August, I can’t yet share my MP’s reply. Rosie Bell, however, who also took part in the campaign, has done so, and has posted a very heartening reply from John Barrett, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, which I reproduce below with Rosie’s permission.
Can I please ask all other people who have written to their MPs to either publish their replies on their blogs (and, if possible, let me know) or to email the texts to me, at firstname.lastname@example.org? If you want to redact any part of the text (your name, for example) go ahead. Even if you don’t want me to publish the letter, it would be helpful if I could have an idea of what your MP said to you.
There are two reasons for this. We will need, first of all, to see which MPs are sympathetic to this cause. If Government policy has not changed by the time Parliament returns from the Summer recess, we will need to think about a face-to-face lobbying effort. Secondly, it is possible that MPs may be briefed by their front benches to send with stonewalling replies; some may even attempt to justify the policy. We need to identify these arguments so that they can be knocked down as speedily as possible. Thanks again to all the bloggers and blog-readers who have already taken part in this, and thanks to all those who will do so now.
John Barrett, MP, writing in reply to Rosie Bell:
‘Thank you for your email regarding your concerns about the current situation in Iraq. I voted against the initial invasion for a variety of reasons, however not even those of us who opposed the war could have foreseen just how disastrous the outcome of the invasion would be.
While Saddam Hussein was a fearful tyrant who brutally oppressed his own people, it is difficult to argue that the lives of Iraqi’s have improved for the better since his removal from power.
The plight of translators and other Iraqi’s who are working with British or coalition forces is a very serious issue that I am glad you raised. The job of an Iraqi interpreter has been described as the most dangerous job in world, and with good reason. As you mentioned, those who work as interpreters, translators or administrators for the British and American governments are often at the top of the insurgence hit lists. Once they’re identity has been revealed, it is often impossible for them to remain in Iraq and they are forced to join the approximately 2m Iraqi refugees who have been forced to flee to elsewhere in the Middle East. I believe strongly that we owe a duty of protection to those people who have risked a great deal to help our own efforts in Iraq, and to help rebuild their country.
You may have seen reports last Friday that the Danish government admitted to having secretly airlifted about 200 translators and other Iraqi employees of its troops out of Iraq under an asylum agreement offered to interpreters and aides who worked for Danish troops. As you mentioned US ambassador in Iraq has also called for all Iraqis working in support of the U.S. government to be offered refugee status. I believe the US, UK, EU and other states that have the capacity should provide resettlement programs for the refugees who are most vulnerable and at greatest risk.
The UK government announced on Friday that it was committed to looking after its troops’ Iraqi aides, estimated to number about 700, but reiterated that asylum applications would be considered on an individual basis. Often delays in visa applications are due to UK authorities needed to establish the authenticity of personal details from the applicant.
However, when individuals have been employed by and are working for the UK government, this information should be readily available and the application ought to be speedily processed. I have today written to the Foreign Secretary pressing him for assurances that we will meet our moral obligation to those interpreters and other staff who have done so much to help our own efforts to rebuild Iraq. I will send you his reply when I receive it.
I hope that this deals with the issues you hoped to raise – if you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Thanks again for raising this underreported issue.
John Barrett MP’