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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 August 2007, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Browne steps into interpreter row
Iraqi interpreter and British soldier
20,000 Iraqis have worked with British forces since 2003
The government says it will review the cases of Iraqi interpreters who have been told any claim for asylum in the UK will not be given special treatment.

The 91 interpreters say they are in fear for their lives, because they are seen as traitors by local militias.

The Home Office insists they will have to apply for asylum in the normal way - registering when they arrive in the UK.

Defence Secretary Des Browne told the BBC that the government took its "duty of care very seriously".

He said about 20,000 Iraqis had helped British forces since 2003.

No 10 said the issue would be kept under review, but previous decisions were unlikely to be overturned.

Requests for help from serving or ex-employees were based on their "individual merits", the Ministry of Defence said.

Mr Browne said: "The challenge that we face here is quite complex.
I put my whole life in danger
Iraqi interpreter

"People who do interpreting work believe themselves to be particularly [more] vulnerable than other people do.

"That's why the prime minister has made it clear that we will review how best to [carry out] our duty of care to these people.

"That's in hand, I have a responsibility on that, as does the foreign secretary and we will report to ministers in the autumn."

'Extremely grateful'

Mr Browne also said the government would "move at the appropriate pace" to get its policy right in relation to duty of care "to all of those whom we have a responsibility to".

He said: "We will do what we can in the meantime, as we continue to do, to keep those people who we think are under immediate threat safe."

A government spokeswoman said: "We are extremely grateful for the service of locally-employed staff in Iraq and take their security very seriously.

"We recognise that there are concerns about the safety of former employees. Government keeps all such issues under review and we will now look again at the assistance we provide."

As a matter of honour, we have to look after them one way or the other if they have a genuine case
William Hague
Shadow foreign secretary

One interpreter who worked for the British Army in Basra for three years is now in Syria after fleeing Iraq in March this year when he feared being targeted by militia groups.

He told the BBC: "I put my whole life in danger. I didn't imagine it was going to be like this.

"I didn't imagine the British government is going to abandon me like this."

The interpreter also said he was turned away from the British embassy in Damascus when he went to ask for asylum in the UK.

Asylum granted

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says interpreters are marked men who "face a horrific death".

He said the interpreters face two levels of danger: that experienced while on patrol, and the consequences of being seen as collaborators.

"Anybody associated with the coalition, government ministries, and so on, they're all seen as traitors by the militias.

"Not just by al-Qaeda in the Sunni areas, but by the Shia militias in the south."

The US has said it will accept 7,000 Iraqis in the coming year, and after Denmark withdrew its troops, it granted asylum to 60 Iraqis and their families.

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague said: "As a matter of honour, we have to look after them one way or the other if they have a genuine case."

Army 'fury'

Conservative home affairs minister Damien Green said each case should be considered on its merits but Britain had signed up to the international refugee convention under which people are considered refugees if their lives are under threat because of political activity.

"It would seem on the surface that these interpreters certainly qualify under that [and] certainly should be allowed to apply," Mr Green said on BBC News24.

"We know that many people in the Army are furious that all sorts of bureaucratic obstructions are being put in their way."

An MoD spokesman said the government took the safety of local people who work for them "very seriously".

He said: "In operational theatres, we consider any specific requests for assistance from serving or ex-employees on their individual merits".

Alan Wheatley, the general secretary of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, linked the prime minister's move to review the asylum policy for Iraqi interpreters to his recent trip to the US.

He told BBC Radio 4's You and Yours: "I assume it's no coincidence that Gordon Brown has just returned from a meeting with President Bush, where the Americans have been under severe pressure for the last six months to do something about this.

"Gordon Brown returns home and we have some action".

Des Browne speaks out on interpreter row


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