Afghan interpreters who served alongside British troops fighting the Taliban will not have to pay the Home Office to stay in the UK, it has been confirmed.
More than 150 translators given a five-year visa to seek sanctuary in Britain, wrote to the new Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson to highlight their concerns.
The interpreters who worked on the battlefield in Helmand Province, said they faced deportation if they could not find the £2,398 per person to apply for indefinite leave to remain once their visas expired.
Ahead of the official announcement, and with the first of the issued visas set to expire next year, Mr Williamson said the fees should be waived as the translators have “every right to be here”.
Confirming the move the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid said: “The local Afghan interpreters worked in dangerous and challenging situations, regularly putting their lives at risk.
“We have always been clear that they will be able to stay in the UK with their families and today I have announced that they will be able to do this for free.”
It is understood the Ministry of Defence first raised the issue a number of weeks ago, and that the Defence Secretary has been seeking a resolution since.
Mr Williamson said: “I am thrilled that the Home Office has agreed that we should waive the fees for the loyal and brave interpreters who served this country by standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our armed forces on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
“They have always delivered for us, so it is important that we deliver for them, and this is something I have been pushing for, and I hope this gives reassurance to the interpreters and their families.”
Interpreter Mohammad Walizada worked for the British military between 2009 and 2015, and sought sanctuary in the UK in January 2016. His five-year visa is set to expire in 2020.
Speaking to the Press Association, the 27-year-old said he felt betrayed by the politicians who he said do not understand what he and the other translators have been through.
He said the situation “should never have happened in the first place”, and that if the cash could not be found to pay the fee, going back to Afghanistan would be like “waiting for your death to come”.
The letter sent by the group of interpreters to the two Cabinet ministers highlighted how many have been told their wives and children who are still in Afghanistan cannot join them in Britain.
And how those whose children have been born in the UK are struggling to obtain documentation for them, and may have to shell out more than £1,000 to get it.
The group of interpreters also criticised the government over the decision not to take those under the relocation scheme who served less than 12 months in Helmand Province and other places, not to take those who served outside the 2012 arbitrary date, and the decision to deport those who made their own way to the UK out of desperation.