My old friend Dan Hardie, whom I met at university and haven't seen for many years, pops up on blogs from time to time to have arguments with people with whom he disagrees. (They can get quite heated.) But now he's turned his attention to starting a political campaign, which I want to publicise here, and to support. The British have been occupying Basra and a chunk of Southern Iraq for four years now. During this time, lots of Iraqis will have worked in one way or another for the occupying forces. And those Iraqis are now the targets of local death squads: see here, for example, for details of what's been happening to people who have worked as interpreters. Incredibly, it seems that the British Government is not willing as a matter of course to grant refugee status and asylum in the UK to these people. Dan wants us to write to our MPs to ask that they be promised this status immediately. Whether or not you thought the war was ever a good idea, whatever you think the future of British forces in Southern Iraq should or should not be, however many other Iraqis you think the British Government ought to take in as refugees in recognition of its share of the responsibility for creating the bloody mess that is Iraq today, you ought to be able to agree that those Iraqis whose lives are now at risk because of their work for the British Government in Iraq are at the very least owed sanctuary by that Government. So write to your MP: this website can be helpful (though politicians always take letters that arrive in the mail on a bit of paper and with a stamp on them a bit more seriously). I'll be sending my letters off to the two Oxford MPs tomorrow. And Dan's original post [here], which provides more details, is reproduced over the fold: We Can't Turn Them Away Since British troops occupied Southern Iraq in the spring of 2003, thousands of Iraqi citizens have worked for the British Army, the Coalition Provisional Authority (South) and for contractors serving UK forces. There is now considerable evidence that their lives, and the lives of their families, are at risk: some former workers for the British have been murdered, and many others have fled to neighbouring countries or gone into hiding in Basra. The British Government, for whom they were ultimately working, has not offered them the right of asylum in the UK. This is morally unacceptable.
The most detailed recent report, by Jonathan Miller of Channel Four news, notes the murder of 17 translators in one single incident in Basra. It cites the cases of hundreds of others who have fled to a refugee existence in nearby Middle Eastern countries or are in hiding in Iraq. The British Government response has come from the Home Office, which has suggested that Iraqis put at risk by their work for British troops â€˜register with the UN refugee agencyâ€™. Other reports provide supporting detail: Iraqis are being targeted for murder because they have worked for British forces. Marie Colvinâ€™s report for the Times of April 8 speaks of desperate former workers for the British Army being turned away from the British embassy in Syria by staff who had orders not to admit any Iraqis. These brave men and women have testimonials written by British officers stating that they are at risk from jihadi violence: and yet we are still refusing to admit them to the United Kingdom.If you feel that this is unacceptable and that Britain should prevent Iraqis from being murdered for the â€˜crimeâ€™ of working for British troops, could you please write to your MP and ask him or her to press the Government for action. You can use the excellent website â€˜Write to Themâ€™ ( http://www.writetothem.com/ ) or post a letter yourself. Please be courteous when writing to your MP. It would be a good idea to read the reports above, and cite relevant facts. We would suggest that your letter could contain the following points:
- It is morally unacceptable that Britain should abandon people who are at risk because they worked for British soldiers and diplomats.
- This country will be shamed if any more Iraqis are murdered for the â€˜crimeâ€™ of having supported UK forces.
- Iraqis who worked for British forces should not be told to leave Iraq and throw themselves on the mercy of United Nations relief agencies in Arab countries: these agencies are already being overwhelmed by the outflow of Iraqi refugees, and Iraqi refugees who have worked for British diplomats or troops may well be targeted by local jihadists.
- There is plentiful evidence that armed groups in Iraq kill the families of those they consider â€˜enemiesâ€™: for this reason we must extend the right of asylum to the families of those who worked for us.
- It is entirely practical for this countryâ€™s troops in Iraq, and its embassies in neighbouring countries, to take in Iraqis who have worked for us and fly them to the UK. Indeed, there is already considerable anger among British servicemen that Iraqis are being abandoned in this way.
- This country is large enough and rich enough to accommodate several thousand Iraqi refugees. Denmark has already given asylum to all 200 Iraqis who worked for its smaller occupying force.
- It does not matter what your MPâ€™s views (or what your views) are on the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. People who risked their lives for this countryâ€™s soldiers are now being abandoned by the British Government. Their lives can and must be saved by their being granted the right of asylum in this country.
- This policy should be implemented regardless of whether British soldiers stay in Iraq or are soon withdrawn. But it must be introduced soon: applications for asylum cannot be processed in a lengthy fashion, as the security situation in Basra is deteriorating rapidly, and delay is likely to lead to further killings of Iraqis who worked for British troops.
Dear (MPâ€™s name) As your constituent, I am writing to discover your views on the treatment of Iraqi citizens who are working or have worked for the British Army, for the contractors supporting it, and for the Coalition Provisional Authority in the South of Iraq. In particular, I would like to know if you support the right of these people to indefinite asylum in the United Kingdom. I strongly suggest that they do indeed have this right. They have, by definition, put their lives at risk by the support they have given to British soldiers who were sent to war by a vote of the House of Commons. Whether you- or I- supported or opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq is immaterial. The risk run by Iraqis working for British troops is even greater than that run by the soldiers themselves. British soldiers are now suffering very high casualties in Iraq, and are continuing to serve bravely- but their local staff are obliged to live among neighbours who will, in many cases, be sympathetic to or even belong to the armed groups fighting the British army. We owe these people a clear moral debt. We cannot allow them to be murdered for the â€˜crimeâ€™ of helping our service men and women. The most effective way of helping these brave Iraqis is to offer them indefinite right to remain in the United Kingdom. There is plentiful evidence that armed groups in Iraq make a practice of murdering not only their â€˜enemiesâ€™ but their families too: and for this reason we must extend the right of asylum to the families of those who have worked with us. This policy should be enacted immediately whether our forces stay in Iraq or are soon withdrawn. Applications for asylum cannot be â€˜processedâ€™ in a lengthy fashion: the situation in Basra is deteriorating, the ability of British soldiers to protect those that work for them is seriously compromised and any delay is likely to lead to the murder of Iraqis who have worked for the British military. I would appreciate your views on this matter.Yours sincerely NAME