7 Jun 2007

Iraq war translators feel ‘abandoned’

A former British army translator, in exile from Iraq, tells Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller “every day the situation is worse” after being “abandoned” by the UK.

Four former British army interpreters, who fled Iraq, claim they were being systematically targeted and murdered for “colluding” with coalition forces.

They sought exile and Britain but were turned down. Now, one of the interpreters tells his own story of life in hiding.

We have been unable to speak about the past

“Every day I wake up in the morning and look through the window looking – ‘is there someone watching me?’ That’s what I used to do back home in Basra when I woke up from sleep.

Today I got out of bed at nine o’clock. I have nothing to do, nothing to kill my time.

Every day I turn the television on watching world news particularly Basra and what is happening in Iraq, every day the situation is worse in all parts of Iraq.

British Army translator speaks with Iraqi Police as members of the Royal Air Force pass a checkpoint at Basra Arches on 12 October 2005. (Getty)

In Basra clashes occurred between terrorists and the British after the killing of a militia leader. I have contacted my family and they have told me that things have become very difficult – they are too frightened to leave their home.

Children cannot go to school for this reason. What is happening there had robbed children of their innocence.

And here in exile… since we left Iraq – because of threats from militia for our work with the multinational forces – we have been unable to speak about the past, about the nature of the work we did.

On our journey from Iraq we went to the UNHCR in Damascus. We were shocked when we saw the huge number of Iraqis at the main gate. We asked for exile on humanitarian grounds but were given an interview date so far in the future it seemed impossible. What should we do? Return to Iraq?

After thinking, we decided to stay for a period of time illegally in exile because we know who is there in the Iraqi side of the border. Syria allows Iraqis to stay without visas, but we must go to the border every month for the renewal of residence.

We hoped to stay in Britain, but the embassy has neglected us. But we know the British people – that ancient people who have expressed support for humanitarian issues so many times – will stand with us.”

Life on the line for £10 a day
For less than £10 a day, hundreds of Iraqis are putting their lives on the line as interpreters for the British Army in Basra.

Many have now fled, having received death threats.

They claim they're being systematically targeted and murdered.

The militias, jostling for control of Basra, consider them traitors.

Unlike the American government, which has announced plans to resettle 7,000 particularly vulnerable Iraqi refugees, the British government has made no such commitment.