We within Faith Matters have spent the last 3 years, consistently highlighting the case of Mohammed Nabi Wardak. In 2018, our Founder campaigned for this Afghan translator, leading to over 135,000 people signing a petition for him to be let into the United Kingdom.
Nabi was found living on the streets of Athens in 2016. He had worked with British forces for 3 years in places like Helmand and had seen action under fire, translating key commands on the battlefield to move Afghan soldiers in partnership with British forces against Taliban extremists. Faith Matters staff saw the list of commendations and certificates that Nabi had received for bravery in the field and signed by serving British officers. We were also instrumental in getting journalists from the Sun newspaper, to highlight and back Nabi’s case for settlement into the United Kingdom. All of this activity has fallen on deaf ears in the Government.
Mohammed’s story reflects the manner in which our Government has failed the vast majority of Afghan translators who stood with us in the battle to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban. Nabi was threatened twice by the Taliban whilst serving with British forces, leading to a kidnap attempt in broad daylight by a Taliban unit that he managed to free himself from. This was followed up by further threats against him and the targeting of his family, that led to him to flee from Afghanistan in 2014 and cross into Iran and finally into Turkey. Bedraggled, broke and broken, he ended up in Turkey, only to be forced into hard labour as a shepherd to survive. It was in 2016, that he made the fateful decision to cross from Turkey into Europe, through the routes that Syrian refugees were taking to seek asylum in Europe. This after a year of hard-labour in the heat of Turkey, just to survive as a refugee.
Taking his life into his hands, he crossed the Aegean sea in a rubber boat, only to be arrested and thrown into jail in Greece. This was the start of his ordeal that saw him released after 30 days with only the clothes on his back. Wandering the streets of Athens, he was homeless and penniless. Unable to speak the language, he begged for food.
Mohammed survived in Athens only by chance. Without drinking water and food, he begged and drunk water from discarded bottles, or was luckily sustained when charities could feed and hydrate him. It was whilst sleeping on the streets of Athens, that the charity – ‘Forge for Humanity’ – led by a British woman called Jess Webster, came across him and highlighted his case in the Independent newspaper. This was in 2018.
What We Know
We know that Nabi spent about 3 years in the field with British forces in major combat zones like Helmand. We also know through documented evidence, that he was good at his job, reliable and praised by British army commanders.
We also know that he left behind his family and his children in Afghanistan, so as to reduce the risk to them by the Taliban, though they have been and continue to be at risk of harm as the Taliban seeks a place in the Government. Additionally, the Taliban have always regarded those who worked with ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and British forces, as traitors and liable to summary execution. They have also threatened to target their families on numerous occasions.
What we are also aware of, is how the British Government, left behind some 6,500 Afghan civilians who had worked with British forces through a tiny textual caveat in the ‘Afghan Relocation Offer‘. Within this scheme, the Government cites that locally employed (Afghan) staff must have been,
Repeated threats against Nabi and his family meant that he left the employment of the Ministry of Defence in 2014. Whilst he fits two out of the three criteria listed above, one simple phrase – that of ‘redundancy’, has severely impacted his life. He was not made redundant. He left because of legitimate fears around the lives of his family and to his life.
3,000 Afghan Civilian Translators Left behind
Lucy Fisher, the Defence Correspondent of the Times, recently highlighted the ‘hollow promises’ made by the U.K. Government to Afghan translators. In her July 2020 article she stated that British forces employed some 7,000 Afghan civilians of which around 3,500 were translators on active duty at the front-line with British forces. She also listed the fact that 20 Afghan translators were killed on active duty and that 445 have been relocated into the U.K with their families, meaning that some 3,000 are still at risk of harm from an emboldened Taliban, now negotiating peace talks with the Afghan Government.
We have waited 3 years to try and get an outcome on Nabi’s case and in that time he has applied for asylum in Greece. He has not seen his children for 4 years and the stress and trauma of seeing combat and his best friend killed by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) whilst on active service, have impacted on his mental health; so has being a refugee in Greece, not knowing whether his family would be targeted by the Taliban.
Nabi should not have been put in a position to seek asylum in a foreign country when he served for many years with our forces. Indeed, the very reason he was targeted was because he believed that we could bring positive change to Afghanistan. The Afghan Interpreter Relocation Scheme was fundamentally meant to accept people like him into the U.K. on the basis that they had served us in the hour of our need in a brutal and hostile terrain.
Haphazard Response from the U.K. Government
Faith Matters has written to the British Consular section in Greece, the Ministry of Defence and to the Home Office. The Consular section did not reply, nor did the Home Office. The Ministry of Defence responded to our queries through Tom Tugendhat MP, suggesting that Nabi has applied for asylum in Greece. The letter also unhelpfully stipulated that he should pursue his asylum claim in Greece.
We have therefore been left with no choice but to publicly highlight his case, to demonstrate the injustice that has been done to Afghan civilian interpreters. They should all have been given the chance to settle into the U.K with their families, having chosen to support our forces at our time of need.
Which is why we are requesting the following; that the Home Secretary take over the asylum application from the authorities in Athens and that Nabi be allowed into the U.K. whilst his asylum application is processed. Failing which, the ‘Relocation Scheme’ be widened to include all those 3,000 interpreters who served with our forces, instead of locking them out through the caveat that they should have been made redundant when British forces left.
Finally, as the Taliban seek a place in the Afghan government in the next few years, surely we cannot leave the fate of 3,000 civilian translators to the wind and to the mercy of the Taliban. For if this is the path the U.K. Government choose to take next time there is a conflict we are involved in, few will heed our calls for action; of this we can be sure.