Afghan translators accuse the British Government of treating them like ‘prisoners’ with some claiming they’ve been stranded in Pakistani hotel rooms for 18 months
- Stuck in Pakistan, they don’t ‘have a clue’ when their new lives begin in the UK
Former Afghan interpreters waiting to relocate to the UK have accused the Government of turning them into ‘prisoners’ trapped in hotels.
The translators have been stuck in Pakistan for up to 18 months with ‘no clue’ of when they will be able to begin their new lives in Britain.
RAF flights carrying those who qualify for sanctuary under the flagship Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP) were halted last November. But UK officials have told those waiting that they will not be moved until housing is found for each family.
More than 1,300 eligible Afghans – many of who risked their lives beside UK troops – are currently in hotels in the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
One former frontline translator has been there more than 520 days and about 70 have been in hotels for more than a year.
Among those waiting anxiously for clearance in Islamabad is David Cameron’s former translator, Shaffy, who said Afghans ‘feel like prisoners’ and their rooms ‘cells’
An estimated further 8,000 who qualify for ARAP and a second UK resettlement scheme are believed to still be in hiding in Afghanistan amid concerns that the delays in Pakistan could mean they remain at risk of Taliban revenge longer.
Campaigners say those stranded in Pakistan have been abandoned by the Government. Lawyers for the interpreters are preparing unprecedented legal action in British courts to challenge the open-ended delays which they argue are unlawful.
Our lives are stuck on hold
Musa says he and his wife have reached ‘breaking point’ after 16 months spent in an Islamabad hotel room.
The 36-year-old said: ‘I went on hundreds of missions beside British soldiers and I am grateful that I no longer have to worry about my safety because the Taliban wanted to kill me. But now the lives of many Afghans are on hold.’
The father of one added: ‘When we crossed the border into Pakistan, there was excitement and relief but now there is frustration, boredom, uncertainty and fear of perhaps having to spend another year in this room.’
Courageous: Translator Musa
While grateful to the UK for promising them relocation, the ex-translators say their lives are on ‘hold’. They also fear arrest in Pakistan as they travelled there on 30-day visas believing they would be moved to the UK in that time. They are unable to leave their hotels as a result.
Many claim to be suffering from anxiety, stress and mental health problems caused by the uncertainty and years of conflict – some have spoken of suicide – while 680 children are unable to go to school.
One former frontline translator branded the indefinite delays as ‘devastating, a betrayal’. Another said he and his family felt ‘prisoners of the UK Government system’ after spending nearly a year in the same room, their only exercise taking place in a hotel car park.
Since the end of the Operation Pitting rescue flights in August 2021, those approved under ARAP by the Ministry of Defence must travel to a third country, usually Pakistan, where they are held in UK-funded hotels until the Home Office issues visas after completing security checks.
Campaigners say none have been issued for over seven months as the Government tries to empty the UK hotels where thousands of ARAP-qualified Afghans still live.
Among those waiting anxiously for clearance in Islamabad is David Cameron’s former translator, Shaffy, who said Afghans ‘feel like prisoners’ and their rooms ‘cells’.
The 37-year-old, who spent six years with the British military – three on the frontlines and three with senior officers and visiting politicians such as Mr Cameron – said: ‘There is a sense of betrayal that our lives are on hold and we are effectively trapped in our hotels with only the clothes we escaped with.’
Shaffy, who was twice injured by Taliban bombs, arrived in Islamabad nine months ago with his wife and five children after his case was taken up by the Mail’s award-winning Betrayal of the Brave campaign. He said he had expected to begin his new life in the UK within weeks.
‘What has happened to us and so many other Afghans is cruel,’ he said. ‘We are trapped in our hotels, unable to leave the perimeters as our visas ran out after 30 days and so if we are on the streets we are illegal and could be deported back to Afghanistan.’
Dr Sara de Jong, from the Sulha Alliance, which campaigns for ex-military translators, criticised the Government, saying: ‘Afghan interpreters who are approved as eligible for relocation deserve better than being abandoned in Pakistan hotels.’ Dr Jong added: ‘It’s in the interest of British society to invest in the more than 680 children who will make the UK their home but who are now left stranded without any access to education.’
A Government spokesman said: ‘We remain unwavering in our commitment to relocate those ARAP eligible Afghans who worked for, or with, UK forces in Afghanistan. To date, we have relocated over 12,200 individuals to the UK.
‘While eligible individuals are undergoing UK visa checks and awaiting relocation to the UK, they are entitled to accommodation and welfare support from [our Government] in third countries.’ Officials stress that those still in Afghanistan remain the priority and ARAP-qualified Afghans in third countries will be moved as quickly as possible.
Brave heroes stranded in Pakistan with no date for move to UK
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