Gavin Williamson backs calls to waive visa fees for ‘brave’ Afghan interpreters
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has thrown his weight behind calls to waive hefty fees for Afghan interpreters who put their lives at risk serving alongside British troops and now want to settle in the UK.
More than 150 translators have put their names to a letter to Sajid Javid, calling on the new Home Secretary to ditch visa rules that could see them pay up to £2,400 each to stay in the UK once their five-year visas run out.
They fear that once their papers lapse they could be deported to Afghanistan and face brutal reprisals from Taliban militants for helping British troops.
Mr Williamson has now backed calls to ditch the costly fees, telling the BBC that the interpreters were “brave individuals who have every right to be in the UK” and paving the way for a change to the rules.
It is understood that the Home Office and MoD are still thrashing out the detail of any changes, but a defence source told PoliticsHome that the Home Office was close to signing off on a plan to scrap the fees. “The Government’s position is to help them,” they added.
The fate of the interpreters has been the subject of a long-running ‘Betrayal of the Brave’ campaign by the Daily Mail - with more than 178,000 members of the public also putting their name to a petition urging a U-turn.
Ex-Army head Lord Dannatt said today that,while Mr Williamson was “completely in agreement” with the campaign, the Home Office - already under pressure over its treatment of the Windrush generation - had been dragging its feet.
“It would appear that the Ministry of Defence wrote to the Home Office some time ago and the Home Office has sat on it,” he told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire. “And that says to me this is part of this hostile environment in the Home Office, trying to make it difficult for people to stay in this country."
He added: “We can’t operate in countries in Afghanistan and Iraq and previously in the Balkans unless we have local interpreters through whom we can communicate. So these people are vital to us. And it is vital that we treat them properly.”