Do you like reading fine words? Here is the Prime Minister on the subject of Iraqi ex-employees of the
British Government, speaking in the House of Commons on October 9th, 2007: 'I
would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of our
civilian and locally employed staff in Iraq, many of whom have
worked in extremely difficult circumstances, exposing themselves and their
families to danger. I am pleased therefore to announce today a new policy which
more fully recognises the contribution made by our local Iraqi staff, who work
for our armed forces and civilian missions in what we know are uniquely
Fine words. What about deeds?
A small number of Iraqis – fewer than a dozen, according to
people close to the operation who are in contact with me- were removed from Iraq
in the early autumn of 2007. Since the Prime Minister's admirable declaration of
October, how many Iraqi ex-employees have been evacuated from Iraq? According to
all the Iraqis that I am in contact with: none.
Here are the words of an Iraqi employee in Iraq, emailing
me, today: 'I am still in Iraq…I hear nothing from your Governmet yet!'
Here is what this man was told on February 3 by a
conscientious British Civil Servant, out in Iraq to arrange the evacuation of
Iraqi ex-employees and clearly shocked by the lack of progress: ''I'm sorry that everything is
taking so long to complete. Please note that we are waiting to hear what happens
next from London and I can assure you all that I will personally contact you as
soon as I receive instructions from London to confirm the next
Here is why he is hiding: 'They (the militia) keep asking my relatives and my
family's neighbors about me and they keep moving in my family's street and keep
their eyes on our home… they told them:
anyone know anything about A__ he should tell us immediately and
also they said: we will never give up until we catch A__
And here is what the Right Honourable Bob Ainsworth,
Minister of State for Defence, wrote to David Lidington, MP, about this same man
on 16th January: 'Mr Hardie expresses concern over the handling of a claim for
assistance by a former employee of British Forces, Mr A_ … Mr A_ is eligible
for the assistance scheme, and we have passed his details on to the Border
and Immigration Agency who will take forward his request for resettlement in
the UK via the Gateway programme. Assuming that there are no problems with Mr
A__'s immigration checks he should be able to leave Iraq by the end of
January…' I added the emphasis, and I can also say that I have it in
writing from the MoD that there were no problems with Mr A__'s immigration
The Border and Immigration Agency is the Home Office Agency
handling the last phase of the operation to resettle Iraqi ex-employees. And it
is the BIA, according to every source of information that I have, that is
delaying the evacuation of the Iraqis.
It is also supposed to be the Home Office that is
co-ordinating the provision of housing to those Iraqis who do get resettled in
the UK. In the House of Lords last month there was a
debate on Iraq at the request of Lord Fowler, whom I had briefed on Iraqi
ex-employees. Lord Chidgey, later backed by the Earl of Sandwich, asked a very
pertinent question of the Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown, and he did
not get a good answer: '…on the resettlement of Iraqis at risk under the
Gateway Protection Programme, the Minister will be aware that its success is
dependent on a sufficient number of local authorities participating. There is
considerable concern that this is not the case at present. Will he advise what
steps the Government are taking to ensure that local authorities will come
There are many operational and logistical difficulties in
the way of an operation: I know that. But the Government has known about these
people for at least six months, and has been publicly committed to helping them
for over four months. That is enough time to plan for the difficulties- far more
time than you usually get in a war.
The Home Office is dawdling while people are threatened
with death.This is either incompetence in the face of a crisis, or it is a
deliberate policy of putting bureaucratic obstacles in the face of fugitives.
Neither is acceptable.
And beyond that, the policy itself is being used to keep
out Iraqis who can prove that they worked for British forces, and who can prove
that their lives are at risk as a result. One man, Hamed, worked for British
forces on Shaibah Logistics Base for over two years, as the Government accepts.
He was threatened by the militias, and gunmen went to his house, so he moved his
family to Syria and slept on the base's floor. He continued to work for the
British. Hamed finally was given 'notice to quit' Shaibah when the base closed,
and fled to Syria, where he cannot legally work and where he and his family are
safe (so far) but hungry. The British Government knows who Hamed is. A British
Army NCO who knew him has confirmed every detail of his story to me, saying that
he knew that Hamed had reported the threats against him to the military
authorities. The Government has written to Hamed to reject any claim for help,
since he was 'not directly employed' by the military.
Another man, Waleed, was directly employed by the military,
in 2005 and 2006. He worked as an interpreter for one Army unit for its six
month tour, during which time he was fired upon and chased by militiamen as he
made his way to the base; he started work for a second unit, after which he
received a threat on his mobile phone detailing where he lived, what he did, and
what would happen to him if he 'collaborated' any more. He was also hunted in
Iraq, and has also fled to Syria. A British Government letter, which I have
seen, informed him that he would not be assisted since he had not worked for the
twelve-month period specified by the Government's policy- which, alas, the
militias do not seem to respect.
We got the Government to admit to its moral
responsibilities. Now we have to get them to match their deeds to their
Please write a letter to your MP. His or her address is The
House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. If you don't know who your
constituency MP is, go here and type your
postcode in. When you've sent a letter, follow it up with an email: his or her
address will normally be SURNAMEINITIAL@parliament.uk – for example BROWNG@parliament.uk
Two or three days after you have written the letter, call
the Parliamentary switchboard on 0207 219 3000 and ask for your MP's office.
Repeat your concerns to the secretary or research assistant you speak to (and be
nice: most of these people work damn hard for little reward), check that your
letter has been received, and politely request that the MP ask questions of
Ministers and reply to you. In your email, your letter, and your phone calls,
you must be courteous: insulting an MP or a research assistant will
discredit this cause. Talking points for the letter are below:
- The Prime Minister announced a review of British policy towards its Iraqi
ex-employees, due to the threats of murder they faced, on August 8th 2007, and
he announced a change in that policy on October 9th, 2007. The Foreign Secretary
made a more detailed policy statement on October 30th, 2007.
- Nearly four months later no Iraqis who have applied under the scheme have
been evacuated from Iraq.
- Not one Iraqi ex-employee living as an illegal immigrant in Syria or Jordan
has been resettled under the scheme.
- A debate in the House of Lords on January 24th, 08 contained several references to
resettlement being blocked by the failure of the Home Office to provide housing
in the UK. The Home Office has had between four and six months to plan for this
eventuality: it is inexcusable that they have not done so.
- Would the MP please put down written Questions to the Home Secretary asking
why the Home Office is unable to live up to the Prime Minister's publicy
expressed commitment to rehouse Iraqi ex-employees whose lives are at risk for
having worked for British forces?
- Would the MP please write in private to the Home Secretary, and to the
Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne MP, asking what provision their department has
made to implement a policy decided in early October, and further asking them if
they are aware that lives are at risk and that rapid action needs to be taken?
- Would the MP also please write to the Foreign Secretary and the Defence
Secretary asking how many Iraqis who are ex-Employees of their departments have
been resettled, and asking why Iraqis who are at risk for having worked for
British forces are being abandoned for having 'worked for less than 12 months'?
- Can the MP please forward these letters to the Prime Minister, who
personally approved the change in policy.
- And finally, can the MP please reply to you with details of any Government
- If you want: you can give your MP my name and email address (firstname.lastname@example.org ) and tell them that I am in contact
with a number of Iraqi ex-employees inside and outside Iraq, none of whom have
received help from the Government, and that I would be happy to brief them with
confidential details of these cases, either by telephone, email or in person at
their Parliamentary offices. They should feel free to contact me.
- When you get a reply to your letter, email me (again, at email@example.com ) -it's very important that I know
which MPs are sympathetic and what the Government is telling them. And email me
if you have anything else that needs saying. Thank you.