Fiyaz Mughal: Britain must honour its obligations to Afghan translators who served with our soldiers

11 Mar

Fiyaz Mughal is the founder of counter-extremist organisation Faith Matters, and the anti-Muslim national hate crime monitoring project, Tell MAMA.

I first came across the case of Mohammed Nabi Wardak in 2017 through the work of a young British woman, Jess Webster, who founded ‘Forge for Humanity’, an Athens-based not-for-profit organisation helping refugees who were streaming in from Syria during the civil war.

Jess told me that Mohammed was living on the streets of Athens and that he had fled Afghanistan because he had worked for British forces in Helmand and had been repeatedly targeted by the Taliban; the very Taliban that are now part of a peace process in Afghanistan and who continue to attack civilians, women and those deemed to have supported British, American and ISAF forces in country.

Moved by this case, I set up a petition for Mohammed to be relocated to the UK with his family, which garnered over 135,000 signatures. Yet there was no response from any Government department. So I delved further into his case and flew out to Athens in 2018 to meet with him at my own expense.

I found a man suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and who had been living on the streets of Athens. He had arrived in Greece through the route that Syrian refugees had been taking via Turkey and he has been imprisoned on his arrival, humiliated and then dumped on the streets of Athens to cater for himself. He was simply alive because of the charity of members of the public, the support from ‘Forge for Humanity’, and by people giving him any left over water in bottles. He had also slept on park benches and he ended up in hospital with suspected kidney failure due to dehydration at one point.

Mohammed was an Afghan forces translator who joined the Afghan forces to push back the Taliban, since he saw the danger they had posed to progress in his country. He believed in the messages that Western forces had brought to Afghanistan, those of ‘peace’, ‘progress’ and ‘stability’ and he joined up whilst in his late teens. These messages resonated with him and he ended up being one of the leading translators for British forces in places like Kajaki and in Helmand province.

He saw action in the field, lost Afghan colleagues, and saw his friends die as they stepped on mines, as they patrolled with British forces. His translations and directions in the heat of battle when British forces had contact with the Taliban may well have saved British lives.

Between 2008-2011, Mohammed saw fierce action with British forces in Helmand. I have seen the commendations and certificates congratulating him from British officers in the field for his bravery and his calm under fire. During these three years of service, Mohammed and his family were repeatedly threatened because of his support for British forces. It culminated in a kidnapping attempt by Taliban sympathisers with the aim of assassinating him. Their attempt was loaded with this message: anyone helping ISAF, British and American forces was a target to be killed.

These threats meant that Mohammed left the employ of British forces on two occasions, because of pressure from his family, relatives, and those who did not want to see him dead in a gutter.

Finally, around 2014, an attempt to capture Mohamed and the subsequent targeting of his family led to him fleeing Afghanistan, with the hope that the Taliban would leave his family alone. Mohammed walked and hitch-hiked to Iran where Iranian border guards robbed him, beat him, and sent him back. He entered again and this time made it on foot to Turkey where he was used for cheap labour as a shepherd, just to survive and to try and to get to Europe. Eventually, abused and maltreated, he crossed into Greece on a rubber boat in 2016, which led to more beatings and grinding homelessness in Greece.

As I write this in March 2021, Mohammed is still in a refugee camp in Athens, where murders and threats form part of the cycle of life. I have made repeated attempts to get the Government to look at the case of Mohammed and his family, as the Taliban are now entrenched into the areas where his family reside in Afghanistan. The initial responses from the Ministry of Defence had not taken into account the threats to Mohammed and his family and stipulated that because he left the employment of British forces, he could not be included in the Afghan Locally Employed Ex-Gratia Scheme, where relocation was only possible for those who were still employed with British forces when we formally withdrew from Afghanistan.

Since 2018, I have campaigned with others so that Afghan translators like Mohammed could be protected under a duty of care that is based on trust. These staff trusted us enough to put their lives on the line for our country, now we must step up and live up to that trust.

In October 2021, Ben Wallace MP, the Secretary of State for Defence, made changes to this scheme. Local Afghan staff and translators who resigned and who worked for more than a year with British forces in Afghanistan can be included in the scheme. This change must be warmly welcomed and the Secretary of State made the right moves.

That was six months ago and the Taliban are on the verge of power sharing in Afghanistan and emboldened enough to target and kill those that go against their fundamentalist Islamist principles. Whilst the Government have shifted, now is the time to move quickly and to bring Mohammed and the many others out there, into the safety of our country with their families. Each day that passes, places them and their loved ones at risk.

In the end, they stood with us, now we must stand with them in their hour of need.