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AOAV calls for greater transparency on the UK government’s treatment of British military Afghan translators

In response to a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has refused to disclose to Action on Armed Violence specific data on the housing of the British Army’s Afghan interpreters and their families.

This refusal, justified by the excessive cost and complexity of extracting the data, underscores a critical issue: a lack of transparency and clarity regarding the fate of those Afghans who risked their lives to aid British military operations in Afghanistan.

Our FOI request sought basic yet crucial information:

  1. The number of Afghan interpreters and their family members currently housed in MoD accommodation.
  2. The total number of individuals expected to be housed under the scheme for Afghan interpreters.
  3. The current and projected costs of housing these individuals.

The MoD’s refusal cited the prohibitive cost of sorting through over 16,500 cases and the difficulty of accurately filtering job roles from initial application forms as reasons for its inability to provide the requested information.

The Cost of Secrecy

Section 12 of the FOIA allows public authorities to reject requests if the cost of processing them exceeds £600. While legal, this response raises questions about the MoD’s commitment to transparency. The inability to provide basic information about the accommodation of Afghan interpreters suggests a lack of robust data management systems and highlights a significant oversight in handling the welfare of individuals who have served alongside British forces.

The MoD’s reliance on cost as a barrier to transparency indicates a broader issue within government agencies: a repeated lack of accountability. If the cost of providing this information is indeed high, it points to inefficient data practices that need urgent reform. If the reason for refusing the FOI is more than just because it would cost too much, this would be an abuse of power and a violation of the FOI act.

The Human Cost

Beyond the data and cost implications, there is a human cost to this lack of transparency. Afghan interpreters and their families have faced immense danger and hardship due to their association with British forces once Afghanistan fell back into the hands of the Taliban. The failure to provide clear information about their accommodation and support is a disservice, as we are unable to ascertain how many are currently forced to live in substandard MOD accommodation.

Afghan interpreters have been essential in bridging cultural and linguistic gaps during military operations. Their contributions have saved countless lives. Yet, their post-service treatment has repeatedly raised ethical questions about the UK’s obligations to those who have assisted its military efforts.

We know, for instance, that BBC Panorama has exposed how UK Special Forces impeded Afghan troops, UK Special Forces have been obstructing Afghan troops who collaborated with them from relocating to the UK, despite the dangers posed by the Taliban’s resurgence. Many Afghan Special Forces’ applications for the UK’s Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (Arap) have been repeatedly denied, leaving them vulnerable to Taliban reprisals. The rejections, often automatic due to Special Forces’ veto power, have been criticised as a conflict of interest amid ongoing war crimes inquiries. Personal accounts from Afghan commandos have highlighted their sense of betrayal and the perilous conditions they face, prompting calls for a review of these policies to ensure justice and support for those who served alongside British forces.

The Need for Improved Data Practices

In relation to this FOI refusal, the MoD’s current data collection and management systems appear inadequate for addressing requests that involve detailed breakdowns of roles and family compositions. This inadequacy not only hampers transparency but also potentially affects the effective provision of support services to Afghan interpreters and their families.

The UK government must invest in better data infrastructure to ensure that information about such critical issues can be accessed and scrutinized without prohibitive costs. This investment is not merely a matter of compliance with FOIA but a step towards honoring commitments to those who have served alongside British forces.

Call to Action

Action on Armed Violence calls on the UK government to:

  1. Improve Data Management: Develop and implement more efficient data collection and management systems to ensure that information about Afghan interpreters and their families is accurate and readily accessible.
  2. Increase Transparency: Commit to greater transparency by providing clear and detailed information about the support and accommodation provided to Afghan interpreters and their families.
  3. Honour Commitments: Recognise the sacrifices of Afghan interpreters by ensuring that their post-service welfare is managed with the utmost care and respect, reflecting their crucial contributions to British military operations.

The lack of clear data on the accommodation and support of Afghan interpreters and their families is a glaring oversight.

It is imperative that the UK government addresses these issues with urgency, ensuring transparency and accountability in its treatment of those who have risked everything to support British forces.