- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2007

LONDON (AP) — Iraqi interpreters and aides who assisted British forces in Iraq will be allowed to settle in Britain, newspapers reported yesterday.

Iraqis who have worked as translators or support staff for the British government for 12 months or longer will be granted asylum status, the Times and Sun newspapers reported, citing unnamed diplomatic sources.

Those unable or unwilling to move to Britain will be given money to help them settle elsewhere, the papers said, adding that those with less than 12 months’ experience would have their case looked at sympathetically.

British Defense Secretary Des Browne said in August that some 20,000 Iraqis had worked for the British military since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, but it was not immediately clear how many of them would be eligible for asylum.

The British prime minister’s office and the Ministry of Defense had no immediate comment on the reports.

The Times said a few hundred other vital support staff would receive the same consideration as the interpreters, but that the offer would exclude thousands more Iraqis who have worked in low-level positions, such as cleaners or drivers.

Senior British military figures and human rights activists have long warned that Iraqis working alongside coalition forces were particularly vulnerable to being targeted by insurgents and militia groups, and that Britain has a responsibility to look after its employees as it draws down its forces in the country.

In August the government said it would re-examine its policy of denying automatic asylum to Iraqi interpreters and other civilian workers.

The Iraqi translators who worked with British forces are among tens of thousands of Iraqis who have worked for coalition military forces, and many are now seeking to leave their war-battered homeland amid assassinations and death threats. But Western governments have struggled with their sense of moral obligation to their Iraqi aides — and worries about a flood of newcomers.

The United States — which has by far the largest foreign presence in Iraq — has only admitted about 800 Iraqis since the war began. It originally planned to resettle 7,000 Iraqis this year, but that number has since been reduced to 2,000 — with processing time of eight to 10 months.

In May, the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a four-year plan to accept up to 60,000 Iraqis who worked for at least a year with U.S.- or U.N.-affiliated groups.


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