On 8 August the Prime Minister announced a review of the Government’s assistance to our Locally Engaged staff in Iraq. The Defence Secretary, Home Secretary, Secretary of State for International Development, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I have now agreed on the elements of a scheme.
Locally engaged Iraqi staff working for our armed forces and civilian missions in Iraq have made an invaluable contribution, in uniquely difficult circumstances, to the UK’s efforts to support security, stability and development in the new Iraq. We are hugely grateful to them for their contribution, which continues to be essential to the delivery of our mission in Iraq.
In recognition of that, we have decided to offer those staff, on an ex gratia basis, assistance which goes above and beyond the confines of what is lawfully or contractually required. Assistance will be based on objective criteria, taking into account determinable and relevant factors. It is offered in recognition of the service by these courageous Iraqis in direct support of HMG’s efforts to help the Iraqi Government and people build a peaceful, stable and prosperous Iraq.
The assistance announced by the Prime Minister yesterday will allow Iraqi staff, including but not limited to interpreters, currently working* for HMG in Iraq, who have attained 12 months’ or more continuous service, to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance of between 6 and 12 months’ salary, depending on length of service, to meet the costs of relocation for themselves and their dependants in Iraq or the region, if they are made redundant or have to resign from their job because of what we judge to be exceptional circumstances. Alternatively, these staff will be able to apply for exceptional leave to enter the UK, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the UK’s Gateway refugee resettlement programme, provided that they meet the criteria for the programme, including that they satisfy UNHCR that they meet the criteria of the 1951 Convention and need resettlement.
In addition, interpreters/translators and other Iraqi staff serving in similarly skilled or professional roles necessitating the regular use of written or spoken English, who formerly worked for HMG in Iraq, will be able to apply for assistance for themselves and their dependants provided that they satisfactorily completed a minimum of 12 months’ service, and they were in our employ on or after 1 January 2005. Former staff meeting those criteria will be able to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance similar to that available for serving staff, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the Gateway programme as set out above.
This assistance will principally apply to Iraqi nationals who meet the eligibility criteria set out above, and who work, or have worked, in Iraq in the following capacities:
as direct employees of the UK Armed Forces or the Ministry of Defence;
on Letters of Appointment from the British Embassy in Baghdad or the British Embassy Offices in Basra and the Kurdistan Region;
as direct employees of DFID and the British Council.
In addition, we are considering what assistance may be provided to a limited number of contracted staff meeting the eligibility criteria who have worked in particularly close association with us as an integral part of HMG programmes, projects and operations in Iraq.
We will announce further details, including on how eligible staff may apply, before the end of the month.
*defined as those working for our civilian missions or armed forces on or after 8 August 2007, the date on which the review of policy was announced.
Right; the good news is that the issue has been recognised, that exceptional leave to remain (ELR) has been mentioned, and that there will also be money for those who choose to go elsewhere in the Middle East. For the uninitiated, ELR provides for the grant of residence in the UK by executive discretion, whether or not a claim to refugee status can be substantiated.
The bad news is the weasel clauses, of course, which set an arbitrary limit of 12 months' continuous service and a cut-off of 2005; God knows why. This is essentially to say that an Iraqi employee must do a tour of duty twice as long as a British soldier. This is unacceptable.
The indeterminate news is that there is no mention of the practicalities; it is one thing to have the right to refugee status or a promise of ELR, it is quite another to be able to exercise it. It is necessary that their applications be processed in advance, statements taken on the spot, and assistance be provided to physically leave Iraq.
Why 12 months? I have a little theory. The reduction of British troops coming up is taking place at the twice-annual rotation of forces; the brigades serve 6-month tours. Gordon Brown's statement on Iraq mentions that there will be a further, 50% cut in troops in April, 2008 - that is, at the next rotation only half the troops going home will be replaced. And the next rotation would be...October, 2008. What price zero?
And why would they want to keep the employees on for another 12 months, in that case?