Archive for the ‘Iraqi employees campaign’ Category

Iraqi Employees: Fine words, shabby deeds

February 25, 2008

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 (danhardie.blog@gmail.com ) 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 danhardie.blog@gmail.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.

Red tape and murder

December 12, 2007

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 (danhardie.blog@gmail.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.

Letting them die

November 25, 2007

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 SURNAMEINITIAL@parliament.uk (eg BROWNG@parliament.uk ).  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 danhardie.blog@gmail.com 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 danhardie.blog@gmail.com  

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’.

Iraqi employees- how to apply for Asylum

November 2, 2007

A number of Iraqi employees have contacted me recently asking about the British Government’s scheme to resettle them in Britain or the Middle East.

If you are an Iraqi employee and need this information, you should go here.

If you are having any problems applying for this scheme, or if you are an Iraqi employee who has worked for less than 12 months for the British, please email me at danhardie.blog@gmail.com and I will do all I can to help you.

Iraqi Employees: the next letter

October 11, 2007

Our Government is still proposing to abandon people to the death squads for having worked for the troops it sent, in our name, to Iraq.  

The ‘twelve months’ stipulation is utterly unacceptable.  In the Miliband statement, the Government  committed itself to doing nothing to shelter people at risk from death squads for having worked for British soldiers or diplomats, unless they can prove that they have worked for the British for a continuous period of twelve months.

There are a lot of local employees who fled their jobs before 12 months precisely because they had been targeted, or who did a 6-month tour for one British battalion and were then told to go and work for the Americans, or who did 12 months or more with interruptions, or who weren’t given proper documentation by the Army. Mark Brockway (former Sergeant-Major, TA Royal Engineers) said so, several times, at the meeting on October 9th; so did Andrew Alderson (Major, Yeomanry); so do the employees, and serving soldiers, who are in touch with them, or with me, by email. 

This is indescribably shabby. It has to be changed.

The first letters to MPs worked. Telephoning the offices of  MPs, I was frequently told ‘They’ve written to the Home Office about it- they got all these letters from constituents.’ So without the letters that you wrote, we wouldn’t have had Brown’s partial climbdown, which may at least save the lives of those hundreds of Iraqis who can prove that they worked for twelve months for us.  Write another letter- or write your first- and we can save some more lives.

As before, bullet points for a letter are below. So is a form letter, but don’t send it unchanged: adapt it a lot. It’s just there to help people over writer’s block. Again, be courteous when writing to your MP and put your full address including the postcode, to indicate that you are a constituent. If you don’t know who your MP is, you can find out here. You should address letters to: (MP’s Name), The House of Commons, Westminster, London. SW1A 0AA. When you get a reply, let me know (in comments, or to danhardie.blog@gmail.com ) so that we can see which MPs we can work with, and which need persuading.

Bullet points:

  • David Miliband’s Statement on ‘Iraq: Locally Recruited Civilians’ of 9th October stated that Britain will help to resettle- in the wider Middle East, or in the United Kingdom- Iraqis who can prove that they have worked for this country’s soldiers or diplomats for a continuous period of twelve months.
  • Hundreds of Iraqis have been targeted for assassination for having worked for this country. Some have worked for a period of twelve months exclusively for the British and can prove this. Some have not but have been pinpointed for murder anyway. We have a responsibility to save these people from being murdered for the ‘crime’ of working for the British.
  • There are a lot of local employees who fled their jobs before 12 months precisely because they had been targeted, or who did a 6-month tour for one British battalion and were then told to go and work for the Americans, or who did 12 months or more with interruptions, or who the Army didn’t give proper documentation too.
  • Iraqi staff members must be given shelter not because of their provable length of service but according to whether they have been identified for murder by local death squads. This can be investigated on the spot by Army officers and referred rapidly to London: the process needs to start now.
  • Mr Miliband’s statement did not mention the families of Iraqi employees. As Iraqi militias also murder the families of their ‘enemies’, we must resettle our employees’ families as well. Mark Brockway, an ex-soldier who hired many Iraqis, estimates that we are talking about a maximum of 700 Iraqis to resettle: this country admits 190,000 immigrants net every year.
  • Iraqis have already been targeted for murder for having worked for this country. We will be shamed if we allow more to be killed for the same reason. Our soldiers, who are angry at this betrayal, and our diplomats, will be placed at risk if they gain a reputation for abandoning their local helpers.

Form letter:

(MP’s Name)

The House Of Commons

Westminster

London. SW1A 0AA.

                                                                                                   Your full name and address.

Dear (MP’s Name)

As you will have read in the Times, Iraqis who have worked for British soldiers or diplomats are being targeted for murder by local militia. An unknown number have already been killed and more have been forced into hiding.

On October 9th, David Miliband’s statement on ‘Locally Recruited Civilians’ in Iraq said that Britain would offer assistance with resettlement for Iraqis who had worked with British forces, but only if they could prove that they had worked for us for 12 months or more. This is effectively leaving hundreds of Iraqis, who have risked their lives for this country’s forces, to the mercy of the death squads. 

Mark Brockway, a former soldier who employed many Iraqis, told Channel Four News on 9th October that local staff often worked for six months for British units, during which time they were frequently identified as ‘enemies’ by the local militias. I believe that the Government has a direct responsibility for the safety of these people.

I feel that it is morally unacceptable that this country is following such a policy. I also believe it will endanger our soldiers and diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan. Can I please ask you to write to the Foreign Office, and also to the Home Office which has charge of asylum policy, to ask why the Government is prepared to ignore the plight of hundreds of people who were placed at risk serving this country’s soldiers.

Yours sincerely

David Miliband’s statement on Iraqi Employees

October 9, 2007

 Below is David Miliband’s statement, released on Tuesday October 9th, setting out Government policy on ‘Locally Recruited Civilians’ in Iraq.  Since this post is currently number four on Google for ‘David Miliband Iraq’, let’s make something plain: Mr Miliband’s statement is disgracefully inadequate.

It’s clearly a product of   horse-trading between five different Ministries (FCO, Home Office, MoD, DfID and the Treasury) all unwilling to spend any money on a bunch of Arabs and mostly unaware or unconcerned that a lack of speedy Government action will kill more Iraqi employees (and put British soldiers at further risk).  

In ascending order of shabbiness, some of the problems with this document are:

i)                   There is no mention of resettlement assistance for employees’ families, although we know that Iraqi militias kill the families of their ‘enemies: I think that the Government may attempt to abandon family members. Ladies and gentlemen of the FCO, do you really think you won’t get awful media coverage if you tell Ali, who worked with our forces, that he can come to the UK away from the death squads, but his wife and daughter must stay in Basra? We both know what the front page of the Times will be. 

ii) The resettlement packages- 6 months’ pay to go away from Iraq and set up somewhere else in the Middle East- are grotesquely mean. And more importantly, the staff must not be improperly pressured to go to a Middle Eastern country if they are not going to be able to live safely there. If they have family or other contacts in a country without a jihadist sub-culture, they may well choose resettlement within the Arab world, though it will have to be properly funded. But force people to stay in Syria and Jordan if they have reason to believe they are being hunted there, and you will have- again- blood on your hands, and you will have- again- furious media coverage.

 iii)  Worst of all is the stipulation that we will only be giving assistance- not just resettlement in the UK, but the pitifully small grants to go elsewhere in the Middle East- to those who can prove that they have worked for UK forces for 12 months continuously. This is the most disgraceful piece of bureaucratic blindness. Do you not understand that Iraq is a war zone? Have you not spoken to the soldiers and heard that some people worked over 12 months for us but were not targeted by death squads but that people who worked for shorter periods have been targeted? Do you not understand that the Army has not been keeping proper records of its Iraqi staff? Do you not know that the British Army sends units out on 6-month roulement tours of Iraq and that Iraqi staff worked for the duration of those tours and then were told to go and work for the Americans? Do you not realise that we are not asking for ‘rewards’ for long service but for sanctuary for people hunted by death squads?  

You’re going to be forced to do the right thing eventually- why not do it now, before more lives are lost? Or- since in your moral autism this appears to be the only argument that you can listen to- before you get more bad press?

Written Ministerial Statement

09 October 2007 IRAQ: ASSISTANCE TO LOCALLY EMPLOYED STAFF  

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. David Miliband):

On 8 August the Prime Minister announced a review of the Government’s assistance to our Locally Engaged staff in Iraq.  The Defence Secretary, Home Secretary, Secretary of State for International Development, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I have now agreed on the elements of a scheme.

Locally engaged Iraqi staff working for our armed forces and civilian missions in Iraq have made an invaluable contribution, in uniquely difficult circumstances, to the UK’s efforts to support security, stability and development in the new Iraq.   We are hugely grateful to them for their contribution, which continues to be essential to the delivery of our mission in Iraq. 

 In recognition of that,  we have decided to offer those staff, on an ex gratia basis, assistance which goes above and beyond the confines of what is lawfully or contractually required.  Assistance will be based on objective criteria, taking into account determinable and relevant factors.  It is offered in recognition of the service by these courageous Iraqis in direct support of HMG’s efforts to help the Iraqi Government and people build a peaceful, stable and prosperous Iraq.  

The assistance announced by the Prime Minister yesterday will allow Iraqi staff, including but not limited to interpreters, currently working[1] for HMG in Iraq, who have attained 12 months’ or more continuous service, to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance of between 6 and 12 months’ salary, depending on length of service, to meet the costs of relocation for themselves and their dependants in Iraq or the region, if they are made redundant or have to resign from their job because of what we judge to be exceptional circumstances.  Alternatively, these staff will be able to apply for exceptional leave to enter the UK, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the UK’s Gateway refugee resettlement programme, provided that they meet the criteria for the programme, including that they satisfy UNHCR that they meet the criteria of the 1951 Convention and need resettlement.

In addition, interpreters/translators and other Iraqi staff serving in similarly skilled or professional roles necessitating the regular use of written or spoken English, who formerly worked for HMG in Iraq, will be able to apply for assistance for themselves and their dependants provided that they satisfactorily completed a minimum of 12 months’ service, and they were in our employ on or after 1 January 2005.   Former staff meeting those criteria will be able to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance similar to that available for serving staff, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the Gateway programme as set out above.

This assistance will principally apply to Iraqi nationals who meet the eligibility criteria set out above, and who work, or have worked, in Iraq in the following capacities:

         as direct employees of the UK Armed Forces or the Ministry of Defence;

         on Letters of Appointment from the British Embassy in Baghdad or the British Embassy Offices in Basra and the Kurdistan Region;

         as direct employees of DFID and the British Council.

In addition, we are considering what assistance may be provided to a limited number of contracted staff meeting the eligibility criteria who have worked in particularly close association with us as an integral part of HMG programmes, projects and operations in Iraq.    

We will announce further details, including on how eligible staff may apply, before the end of the month.  



Iraqi employees: the numbers game

October 8, 2007

The Government are saving some Iraqis threatened with death if they’ve worked for us for 12 months, and abandoning others, equally threatened with death but who’ve worked for less than 12 months. They’re playing a numbers game with people’s lives.

I spoke a few minutes ago with Mark Brockway, and he made these substantive criticisms:

1)The Numbers Game: The demand that Iraqis must have worked for the British Army or Government for 12 months is wholly arbitrary. Of the people Mark knows, around a quarter have worked for less than 12 months for the British Army but are threatened by the death squads- one or two were detected by the militias early in their service and the others started off working for the British and then were told by the Army to go and work for the Americans- there was quite a lot of  this ‘passing on’ of skilled interpreters and other staff.

2) So: Principles must count for more than Numbers. What we’ve always said: the principle must be that anyone threatened with death for having worked for us must be evacuated. We are only talking a few hundred people here anyway, so the Government’s quibbling over numbers is particularly shameful.

3) Families. Gordon Brown did not mention families of threatened staff, and told Menzies Campbell that up to 250 people would probably need help. The local militias murder families of their enemies, and so the Government must make accept the principle that if they want to take their families with them, they can.

4) Resettlement in the Middle East. Some Iraqi employees might welcome resettlement in the Middle East rather than in the UK, but any resettlement package must be generous- these people risked their lives for our soldiers- and Iraqis must not be pressured to choose resetlement in the Middle East rather than the UK. One Iraqi told Mark Brockway ‘I am at risk in Iraq but even more at risk in Syria- I know less about where to hide.’

Our campaign, and the Times’s campaign, have pushed the Government this far. We can push them further. What was announced today is the thin end of the wedge, and we are going to hammer that wedge in. Tomorrow, 7-9pm, in the Attlee Suite at Portcullis House: see you there.

Iraqi Employees: Maintain the pressure

October 7, 2007

Gordon Brown may apparently be making a statement on Iraq to the House of Commons tomorrow afternoon, sometime after 2pm. He may or may not mention Britain’s Iraqi employees and the need of some of them for asylum. The Times article of Saturday promises nothing but gave the Government a big, positive headline: classic spin. I have always said, when writing to Jacqui Smith and other Ministers, that to pre-announce asylum for Iraqi employees before they’d actually been taken to safety would increase the risks to them and to the British soldiers who would have to evacuate them. I hope desperately that this won’t happen. I also hope that we will see a genuine promise of resettlement for all who are identified as being seriously at risk for having worked for the British in Iraq.

Brown may or may not promise this on Monday afternoon: frankly they have been so grudging that I doubt it.  The Government are going to have to be pushed to do the right thing, so the meeting on Tuesday, October 9th is now more important than ever: we can win if we keep pushing.  It’s at Parliament, Committee Room 14, St Stephen’s entrance, from 7-9pm. Invite your MP and come yourself.

October 9th: Bring your own MP

September 5, 2007

The letters are working.  Twelve days ago I met with my MP: ‘Ah, the letters’ was almost the first thing she said. ‘We’ve all been having a lot of them, and we’ve all been on to the Home Office to get the policy changed. What are you hearing? They haven’t changed it?’ Policy is going to change, but slowly. There’s a distinct lack of speed.

What I’m hearing from soldiers who have hired Iraqi employees, and who are now in contact with these people as they flee to Syria and Jordan, or hide out in Basra, is: lack of speed is killing.  One ex-Royal Engineer told me on the phone last night about a man he recruited in 2003 who hoped to build a new Iraq, then fled the country, and then was murdered at some point in the last few weeks.

What can you do?

If you’ve already written to your MP, write or email him or her again: and this time, invite them to a speaker meeting at Parliament on the second day of the new session, Tuesday 9th October.

If you haven’t already written to your MP, please do so. You can find out about your MP here. utline what’s happening and why we should be concerned, ask them to contact the relevant Ministries (particularly the Home Office but also the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and also invite them to the meeting. Talking points for both letters are below. Any blogger who has participated in this campaign is invited, and so is any blogreader who successfully invites their MP: just email me at danhardie.blog@gmail.com and an invitation will be heading your way.  Stress to MPs that mainstream print and TV journalists will be present: that is the kind of thing that tends, for some reason, to attract them. And stress that this is the first blog-based campaign in the UK: this is how politics is going, and they need to see what it looks like.

Talking points for an invitation letter- if you’ve already corresonded with your MP on this subject:

  • The Government has not yet altered policy, despite calling an inter-departmental review, and in the meantime Iraqis who worked for the British are successfully being hunted down by death squads.
  • There will be a cross-party meeting, organised by the online campaign for Asylum rights for Iraqi employees. It will take place in Parliament in Committee Room 14 (St Stephen’s Entrance) from 7-9pm on Tuesday 9th October. Please arrive early to avoid hideous disappointment, etc.
  • The main speaker will be a British soldier who hired a number of Iraqis and is in contact with many of them now, including many who have fled Iraq ahead of the death squads: he will give an up-to-date, detailed picture of events on the ground.
  • There will also be speeches by Ed Vaizey (Conservative MP for Wantage, Spokesman for Culture, Media and Sport) and Lynne Featherstone (Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, Spokeswoman for International Development), and by at least one senior Labour backbencher.
  • Stress this: It will be reported by Channel Four News and probably other TV news organisations, BBC Radio Four and Radio Five Live, and by reporters and columnists from The Times, The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Evening Standard, The New Statesman, The Observer and The Evening Standard.
  • The event is supported by Amnesty International, The Refugee Council and Human Rights Watch, who will all have people present.

To write a  first letter on this subject to your MP:

Use these talking points, then give them the location and timing of the meeting, and don’t forget to tell them about the TV crews.

Thank you.

Two teenaged Quislings

August 20, 2007

Today I had a lively telephone conversation with Andrew Alderson, about the Iraqi asylum campaign. Alderson was deployed to Iraq as a TA Officer in 2003, and found himself trying to make sense of Basra’s banking system; a few months later he returned to run the finances of the Coalition Provincial Authority (South).

Whatever one thinks of the invasion of Iraq, only a nihilist or a lunatic could have wanted the country’s economy left in ruins. Alderson, being neither, had been determined to provide the people of Southern Iraq with functioning power and water systems, a stable currency and decently paid employment.

I mentioned that I’d bought his book ‘Bankrolling Basra’ and was reading it rather quickly: ‘Oh, it’s meant to be a rollercoaster‘ he said. It is. There goes our hero, with millions of dollars in his rucksack and a pistol in his chinos, off to pay the dockers or the electricity workers, demanding a power supply for a wrecked factory or scheming to circumvent the procurement rulebook to get the canal system fixed. Perhaps one notes a tendency for stories to conclude with some variation of ‘so I was proved right, again’, but Mr Alderson does work in the City.

What’s impressive is his emphasis that Iraqis must be given the chance to take key decisions, his determination to outsmart those British or American officials who were not prepared to let Iraqi engineers or bankers take the lead in their own country. It’s the most interesting account that I’ve read of applied finance in a poor nation  since ‘The Economist’s Tale’.

 But I just stopped reading it. This is the last thing I came to:

‘Shaimaa Falih and Likaa Falih were sisters aged 16 and 18, who worked in the CPA laundry. Both spoke excellent English and worked 12-hour shifts uncomplainingly in the tiny laundry-room area for about $350 a month. Both of them were warm and friendly girls and they’d smile and chat with us when we dropped off our laundry.

‘One evening after work they were being taken home by taxi as usual when the vehicle was confronted by four masked gunmen in a street just a few hundred yards from the girls’ home. One of the gunmen fired a bullet to stop the taxi while another tried to pull one of the sisters out of the car. She resisted and was shot in the head. When the other sister got out of the car she was also shot. The men then drove off in a getaway car. It was clear that Shaimaa and Likaa were murdered simply because they’d been working for foreigners. A few days later anonymous leaflets were left in the city denouncing the ‘traitorous’ and ‘immoral’ actions of the sisters for working with the CPA. They also threatened more attacks on Iraqi staff.’

A leaflet justifying the murder of teenage laundry girls as being an execution for treason- that means  this specimen isn’t merely a perverted cretin, but is also rather drearily unoriginal. Recall his slavering sneer, composed in between his labours as a crammer of bourgeois kids who have failed their A Levels, about the ‘excellent wages’ paid to those targeted by the death squads, and imagine what such a creature might offer in reptilian defence of these particular killings: ‘$350  a month for a little laundry work? Asking for it.’

This isn’t about only ‘translators’. This isn’t about just ‘the 91’. This is about two teenage girls murdered because they worked folding clothes in some sweatbox, the same as I did in my eighteenth summer, murdered because they worked for people sent there by our elected representatives. It’s about safeguarding those threatened with torture and death for the same reason, those Shaimaas and Likaas who are now hiding, in fear for their lives while we welcome or bemoan the return of the Premiership and read detailed articles on ‘Big Brother.’

You can research your MP here, you can get ideas for a letter here, and when you get a reply you can let us know here. That’s ‘can’ in the sense of ‘should’.  We don’t have the right to tell these people we will protect them and then abandon them to their deaths.