Do you like reading fine words? Here is the Prime Minister on the subject of Iraqi ex-employees of the British Government, speaking in the House of Commons on October 9th, 2007: ‘I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of our civilian and locally employed staff in Iraq, many of whom have worked in extremely difficult circumstances, exposing themselves and their families to danger. I am pleased therefore to announce today a new policy which more fully recognises the contribution made by our local Iraqi staff, who work for our armed forces and civilian missions in what we know are uniquely difficult circumstances.’
Fine words. What about deeds?
A small number of Iraqis – fewer than a dozen, according to people close to the operation who are in contact with me- were removed from Iraq in the early autumn of 2007. Since the Prime Minister’s admirable declaration of October, how many Iraqi ex-employees have been evacuated from Iraq? According to all the Iraqis that I am in contact with: none.
Here are the words of an Iraqi employee in Iraq, emailing me, today: ‘I am still in Iraq…I hear nothing from your Governmet yet!’
Here is what this man was told on February 3 by a conscientious British Civil Servant, out in Iraq to arrange the evacuation of Iraqi ex-employees and clearly shocked by the lack of progress: ‘‘I’m sorry that everything is taking so long to complete. Please note that we are waiting to hear what happens next from London and I can assure you all that I will personally contact you as soon as I receive instructions from London to confirm the next arrangements.’
Here is why he is hiding: ‘They (the militia) keep asking my relatives and my family’s neighbors about me and they keep moving in my family’s street and keep their eyes on our home… they told them: anyone know anything about A__ he should tell us immediately and also they said: we will never give up until we catch A__ .‘
And here is what the Right Honourable Bob Ainsworth, Minister of State for Defence, wrote to David Lidington, MP, about this same man on 16th January: ‘Mr Hardie expresses concern over the handling of a claim for assistance by a former employee of British Forces, Mr A_ … Mr A_ is eligible for the assistance scheme, and we have passed his details on to the Border and Immigration Agency who will take forward his request for resettlement in the UK via the Gateway programme. Assuming that there are no problems with Mr A__’s immigration checks he should be able to leave Iraq by the end of January…’ I added the emphasis, and I can also say that I have it in writing from the MoD that there were no problems with Mr A__’s immigration checks.
The Border and Immigration Agency is the Home Office Agency handling the last phase of the operation to resettle Iraqi ex-employees. And it is the BIA, according to every source of information that I have, that is delaying the evacuation of the Iraqis.
It is also supposed to be the Home Office that is co-ordinating the provision of housing to those Iraqis who do get resettled in the UK. In the House of Lords last month there was a debate on Iraq at the request of Lord Fowler, whom I had briefed on Iraqi ex-employees. Lord Chidgey, later backed by the Earl of Sandwich, asked a very pertinent question of the Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown, and he did not get a good answer: ‘…on the resettlement of Iraqis at risk under the Gateway Protection Programme, the Minister will be aware that its success is dependent on a sufficient number of local authorities participating. There is considerable concern that this is not the case at present. Will he advise what steps the Government are taking to ensure that local authorities will come forward?’
There are many operational and logistical difficulties in the way of an operation: I know that. But the Government has known about these people for at least six months, and has been publicly committed to helping them for over four months. That is enough time to plan for the difficulties- far more time than you usually get in a war.
The Home Office is dawdling while people are threatened with death.This is either incompetence in the face of a crisis, or it is a deliberate policy of putting bureaucratic obstacles in the face of fugitives. Neither is acceptable.
And beyond that, the policy itself is being used to keep out Iraqis who can prove that they worked for British forces, and who can prove that their lives are at risk as a result. One man, Hamed, worked for British forces on Shaibah Logistics Base for over two years, as the Government accepts. He was threatened by the militias, and gunmen went to his house, so he moved his family to Syria and slept on the base’s floor. He continued to work for the British. Hamed finally was given ‘notice to quit’ Shaibah when the base closed, and fled to Syria, where he cannot legally work and where he and his family are safe (so far) but hungry. The British Government knows who Hamed is. A British Army NCO who knew him has confirmed every detail of his story to me, saying that he knew that Hamed had reported the threats against him to the military authorities. The Government has written to Hamed to reject any claim for help, since he was ‘not directly employed’ by the military.
Another man, Waleed, was directly employed by the military, in 2005 and 2006. He worked as an interpreter for one Army unit for its six month tour, during which time he was fired upon and chased by militiamen as he made his way to the base; he started work for a second unit, after which he received a threat on his mobile phone detailing where he lived, what he did, and what would happen to him if he ‘collaborated’ any more. He was also hunted in Iraq, and has also fled to Syria. A British Government letter, which I have seen, informed him that he would not be assisted since he had not worked for the twelve-month period specified by the Government’s policy- which, alas, the militias do not seem to respect.
We got the Government to admit to its moral responsibilities. Now we have to get them to match their deeds to their words.
Please write a letter to your MP. His or her address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. If you don’t know who your constituency MP is, go here and type your postcode in. When you’ve sent a letter, follow it up with an email: his or her address will normally be SURNAMEINITIAL@parliament.uk – for example BROWNG@parliament.uk
Two or three days after you have written the letter, call the Parliamentary switchboard on 0207 219 3000 and ask for your MP’s office. Repeat your concerns to the secretary or research assistant you speak to (and be nice: most of these people work damn hard for little reward), check that your letter has been received, and politely request that the MP ask questions of Ministers and reply to you. In your email, your letter, and your phone calls, you must be courteous: insulting an MP or a research assistant will discredit this cause. Talking points for the letter are below:
- The Prime Minister announced a review of British policy towards its Iraqi ex-employees, due to the threats of murder they faced, on August 8th 2007, and he announced a change in that policy on October 9th, 2007. The Foreign Secretary made a more detailed policy statement on October 30th, 2007.
- Nearly four months later no Iraqis who have applied under the scheme have been evacuated from Iraq.
- Not one Iraqi ex-employee living as an illegal immigrant in Syria or Jordan has been resettled under the scheme.
- A debate in the House of Lords on DATE contained several references to resettlement being blocked by the failure of the Home Office to provide housing in the UK. The Home Office has had between four and six months to plan for this eventuality: it is inexcusable that they have not done so.
- Would the MP please put down written Questions to the Home Secretary asking why the Home Office is unable to live up to the Prime Minister’s publicy expressed commitment to rehouse Iraqi ex-employees whose lives are at risk for having worked for British forces?
- Would the MP please write in private to the Home Secretary, and to the Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne MP, asking what provision their department has made to implement a policy decided in early October, and further asking them if they are aware that lives are at risk and that rapid action needs to be taken?
- Would the MP also please write to the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary asking how many Iraqis who are ex-Employees of their departments have been resettled, and asking why Iraqis who are at risk for having worked for British forces are being abandoned for having ‘worked for less than 12 months’?
- Can the MP please forward these letters to the Prime Minister, who personally approved the change in policy.
- And finally, can the MP please reply to you with details of any Government response.
- If you want: you can give your MP my name and email address (firstname.lastname@example.org ) and tell them that I am in contact with a number of Iraqi ex-employees inside and outside Iraq, none of whom have received help from the Government, and that I would be happy to brief them with confidential details of these cases, either by telephone, email or in person at their Parliamentary offices. They should feel free to contact me.
- When you get a reply to your letter, email me (again, at email@example.com ) -it’s very important that I know which MPs are sympathetic and what the Government is telling them. And email me if you have anything else that needs saying. Thank you.