David Miliband is the Minister responsible for Government policy towards its Iraqi ex-employees, including those in fear of their lives. In a recent webchat on the Number 10 website, Mr Miliband was asked the following question by Justin McKeating: ‘I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary why the assistance being offered to locally employed staff in Iraq, who are being threatened with reprisals – including torture and death – from local militias, is being rationed according to length of service. Isn’t it perfectly possible for an Iraqi employee who has only been employed for five months to face the same dangers as a colleague who has been employed for twelve months or longer?’
To which he replied ‘ The scheme is open to all existing staff whatever their length of service. For previous staff who no longer work for us, there is a 12 month criteria. I think this gets the balance right. The fortitude of civilian staff alongside military forces has been amazing on the part both of British staff and locally employed staff. The new scheme tries to recognise this.’
Just how good a job of recognising it is noted in The Times today .
There are a great many methods which our Government, acting in our name, is using to keep out Iraqi ex-employees at risk of being murdered for having trusted this country. Officials have rejected 125 out of 200 applications for help so far, and one of the grounds that they are citing is absenteeism. One of the skivers, an ex-interpreter named Safa, says that he served UK Forces for two and a half years and was unable to come to work when militiamen began observing the British bases, targeting those working for the Army. Of course applications cannot be accepted simply at face value: but Safa has no right of appeal. His case could quite easily be verified by ringing round the Army officers with whom he says he served, and checking his story. There is no indication that the Government has done this, and now his case is in the bin.
I can tell you about another of the bureaucratic obstacles being put in the way of at-risk former Employees. I’ve been forwarded a copy of the standard reply sent to all ex-employees asking for help. I’ll reproduce it in full later. It says, among other things, that ex-Employees applying for asylum may have to wait until 2009. This is disgraceful: people are being hunted in Basra now.
And the other bureaucratic obstacles are the ones we warned about when David Miliband made the October 9th Statement: ex-employees must prove that they worked 12 months continuously after the 1st January 2005, excluding those who were identified as murder targets during the course of the Sadrist uprising in 2004 or who worked for the duration of a Battalion’s six-month tour and became known as ‘collaborators’ in that time.
This comes down to one simple principle: the Iraqis whom our Government should help first are those who are at risk of being murdered for having worked for the British. It is still not too late for the Government to implement this principle. It is administratively possible. It is morally imperative.
And from the Government’s viewpoint, it is now politically advisable: a continued policy of literally niggling people to death, putting bureaucratic obstacles in the way of men and women in fear of their lives for having worked for British troops, will attract nothing but contempt, from the press and the public.
Once more, then: write to your MP. His or her address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London. SW1A 0AA. You can look your MP up here .
Make the points above, courteously: an insulted MP will do nothing for threatened Iraqis. Ask your MP if he or she will sign Early Day Motion 401, which raises these concerns, and if he or she will write to David Miliband asking for an explanation. You can also give them my email address (email@example.com ) and tell them that I am in touch with a number of Iraqis in Basra and Damascus, and will be happy to come to Westminster to give them a concise briefing, as I already have for a number of MPs.
Only pressure got this Government to announce a partial, grudging change of policy. Only pressure will stop this Government from finding bureaucratic excuses to abandon its moral obligations and leave its former Employees to the death squads.