Those twelve months…

Via the tenacious Dan, we find ourselves reading a Written Ministerial Statement on Iraq: Assistance to Locally Employed Staff.

While it is obviously good that the British Government is recognising that many Iraqis have been endangered due to their work for HM Forces, it is a shame that the 12 month criteria remains. It is a symptom of a wider malaise in our political culture, whereby asylum and different forms of immigration are conflated and confused. While it is reasonable that citizenship should have some length-of-stay or length-of-service proviso attached, this should not be the case for asylum claims, which should be judged purely on the basis of need.

The statement says that the current policy “is practical, realistic and preserves the integrity of wider immigration and asylum policy.” Are other types of asylum seekers subject to the 12 month rule?

The Numbers Game

Gordon Brown mentioned the Iraqi employees of the British Forces in his speech yesterday.

Existing staff who have been employed by us for more than twelve months and have completed their work will be able to apply for a package of financial payments to aid resettlement in Iraq or elsewhere in the region, or – in agreed circumstances – for admission to the UK.

(via P/P).

Dan explains that the “12 months” criteria is unfair and arbitrary. People who have served for less time are still being threatened with death.

The argument from the government is presumably that these measures are harsh but necessary, to avoid “opening the floodgates” to asylum claims from Iraqis who have a tenuous, temporary link to the British Forces. I guess this is an argument that has some traction in the media… but it is a dangerous cliche. It first assumes the worst motives of those who would seek work with our troops. It assumes that they are merely mercenaries, with no sense of home or belonging in Iraq. But this is a mistake. Most of the Iraqis who have worked with the British have done so in order to help rebuild their own country. Ties to their home are strong and patriotic. Given the risks involved in taking on this kind of work, it is hardly going to be a fast-track or short-cut to a life in the West. Nor will it be percieved as such in Iraq.

Second, asylum claims should be considered on the basis of need, not length of service. Asylum is not the same as granting citizenship. It is not like a knighthood or a gold watch, to be presented as some kind of long-service award. The militias who roam Basra do not ask for a P60 form before deciding whether or not to beat you up. “Oh, well, you’ve only been working for the British for eleven months, so we’ll be back at the beginning of next month to terrorise your family.” A cleaner who is threatened on the way to his first day of work has as much right to asylum as someone who has been translating for our squaddies since March 2003.

Nick Cohen complains that campaigners fail to mention that it is Islamist militias who are causing the violence. Indeed they are – but this is a moot point. Asylum should be blind to the cause of the danger – and necessarily so. If it was limited to cases where the British has somehow caused, or simply exacerbated the violence, then the process would be even more ugly and opaque than it is now. Of course, others might say that Britain has caused the violence, by invading Iraq in the first place. This is a hydra of a debate at the best of times… but in this case, thankfully, a moot point too.

Update

Tim Ireland links the issue to Brown’s leadership:

Brown’s senior advisers should know their history, not just what they can remember from media studies; if they’ve fought more than one local election campaign, they should be aware that the echoes of the miner’s strike pale into insignificance next to the memories of the 1991 uprisings in Iraq, and this decisive moment will have an impact far beyond local activism. These people need to be looked after immediately.

US leads, UK loiters

While the British Government fails to make up its mind on the fate of Iraqi asylum seekers, the US sentate has done the decent thing. An ammendment to a defense bill by Senator Ted Kennedy (D, Mass) means Iraqis who have worked for US forces can rely on a speedy asylum process (via Norm):

The amendment raises the number of Iraqi interpreters and U.S. government employees (with at least one year of service) who can be admitted under a special immigrant visa program from five hundred to five thousand each year for the next five years. It creates a special category (“Priority 2”) of persecuted Iraqis—including U.S. employees, people working for American news and nongovernmental organizations, contractors, and members of religious minorities, and their families—whose refugee applications can be heard directly by the U.S. government without a United Nations referral, which should speed up and streamline an extremely sluggish process.

There’s a campaign to introduce similar measures here in the UK. Dan reminds us about the meeting next week at Portcullis House, and how you can invite your MP.

Meanwhile, in the week after Gordon Brown said “Human Rights are Universal”, the Independent interviews asylum seekers from Darfur, Zimbabwe and Burma who are about to be deported back to their countries of origin, where they will be in grave danger. This confusion is testimony to how poisoned the immigration debate has become, with “illegal immigrants” confused with economic migrants, asylum seekers, and legal refugees. The fact that government departments and agencies are so slow to adopt the morally decent policy on these issues is, I think, a failure of leadership. They need political cover from Ministers.

"Get out or die"

More on the isue of asylum for Iraqi interpreters. Martin Fletcher reports for The Times in Iraq:

Iraqi interpreters working for the British Army have been advised to leave Basra or be killed.

The warning was issued by a leading member of the city’s security forces after militiamen attacked and destroyed the home of one interpreter and narrowly failed to kidnap another. There were unconfirmed reports yesterday that a third had been killed.

“All the interpreters have to leave Basra because these militia will never let them rest. They will kill everybody they know [who worked for the British],” Colonel Saleem Agaa Alzabon, who leads Basra’s special forces, said. “The interpreters have to leave. They have no choice.”

Chatting to people about this issue, one genuine concern is that it will effectively “open the floodgates” to an unmanageable number of refugees from war-torn countries. As I’ve said previously, I think one response to this is that just such a torrent (to continue the slightly uneasy water metaphor) is one of the many prices we pay when we go to war. Alongside ‘force-depletion’ figures (predictions for how many of our own soldiers will be killed and wounded in any given attack), the Prime Minister should also examine predictions for refugee figures, how many locals will be employed directly by our forces. The cost of accomodating these people and their families should be factored into the cost of a war. They’ll cost less than the price of a new Tornado, I’ll wager.

“Ah, but refugees are a burden, and Tornado is useful in winning the war!” comes the cry. True, but then, so are interpreters and support staff. Actually, a Tornado is only useful at winning a conventional air war against a recognisable, conventional army. Interpreters are surely key to succeeding when we become embroiled in an unconventional, guerilla insurgency. If we send out the message that the British leave their allies high-and-dry, then we will soon find that the well of linguists dries up when we intervene in future conflicts. (See how I turned that water metaphor around?) How many of our soldiers speak Iranian, or Sudanese Arabic?

As trailed previously, Dan Hardie has arranged a meeting for MPs to discuss the urgent issue of the Iraqi Interpreters, on October 9th. Why not write to your own MP and ask them to attend?

Update

Blood & Treasure points out that the Syrians have introduced new restirctions on their border, meaning a key escape route for fleeing Iraqis is now sealed off. Also via Chicken Yoghurt, CuriousHamster has an amusing snippet of of satire.

Bring your own MP

More on ‘We Can’t Turn Them Away’:

Lack of speed is killing.  One ex-Royal Engineer told me on the phone last night about a man he recruited in 2003 who hoped to build a new Iraq, then fled the country, and then was murdered at some point in the last few weeks.

Dan Hardie is organising an event in Westminster to further highlight this issue. He is calling it Bring your own MP and it is on 9th October.

Open Source Campaigning

As part of the “We can’t turn them away” campaign, Dan Hardie has asked bloggers to post any responses they receive from MPs. Alistair Darling has replied to my letter… but only to say he will be investigating further, and will write again soon. When he does, I shall obviously post his response here.

The drive is an excellent example of Open Source Campaigning. ‘Open Source’ is a phrase taken from computer programming, where a group of programmers can all work on a project together. Tasks are itemised, and any programmer can take on an assignment from the list, complete it, and upload his code to the central source. Eventually a new version of the programme is available for release – usually for free.

The Iraqi asylum campaign fits the defintion for Open Source Campaigning for several reasons. It has a very specific policy objective, which lends itself very well to letter writing campaigns. The “list of tasks” does not even need to be written: Thanks to online tools such as WriteToThem.com and TheyWorkForYou.com we already have an available list of the MPs that need to be contacted. Individual bloggers and concerned citizens know exactly what is required of them, and the “ask” for each individual is actually very small – they just need to write a letter to their MP, and post the response. Those bloggers leading the campaign can take on the baton from there, calling to account any MPs who have given an ambiguous response, and lauding those MPs who have pledged their support to the campaign.

Meanwhile, Journalist Jay Rosen has been exploring the concept of Open Source Journalism. His recent article Blowback: The Journalism That Bloggers Actually Do has that meta-quality that I love. He has written a response to a curmugeonly article from Michael Skube in the LA Times, complaining that bloggers only give “opinion” and never do any fact finding. In response, Rosen lists many examples where bloggers have been fact-finders. Crucially (and here is the lovely ‘meta’ part) most of those examples were sent in by bloggers themselves.

Of course, most campaigns rely on some kind of public interaction to make them effective. I suppose what distinguishes an ‘appeal’ (such as the search for Madeline McGann, or a murder enquiry) is that not everyone can help with an ‘appeal’ as they can with an Open Source campaign. In the case of journalism, not everyone can provide researchers with an interesting story or case study for an article. But they can do a little piece of fact-finding research for an Open Source Article. All that is required is for the participants to care enough about the final outcome.

The next task for the “We Can’t Turn Them Away” campaign will be a honing excercise. Of all the MPs in the House of Commons, it is especially important to get comments and messages of support from those who have army regiments based in their constituency. The hive-mind needs to itemise every regiment who has worked in Basra (and therefore benefited from the local Iraqi workforce in some way), and then identify the relevant MP. For starters, it happens that none-other than Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague is the MP for the huge Catterick Garrison. Armed Forces Bill Committee Member and Home Affairs Committee Member Bob Russell is the MP for Colchester, another big army town. Have they been approached yet?

Missing Britons in Iraq

Back in May, five Britons were kidnapped in Iraq.  They were working for the security agency GuardaWorld, apparently protecting an employee of BearingPoint.

The media silence on this issue is noteworthy.  Usually when a person goes missing in Iraq, there is a sustained level of news coverage until the person is either released or killed.  In this case, however, there has been nothing beyond the initial report.

Whenever hostages are released, they always state that their worst fear is that they have been forgotten by the outside world. Alan Johnston:

“The thing you don’t want is to be left behind, buried alive, and have the world go on around you,” he said.

So the campaign for a hostage’s release seems worthwhile in retrospect, even if it seems to make little material difference at the time.  Its a shame that these five men have indeed been forgotten.  If they are listening to a radio somewhere, they will hear no mention of their plight.

Can it be that, in the absence of named victims, the media has completely no interest?  Or perhaps there is some kind of media embargo as negotiations take place?  I’ve e-mailed the press departments of both companies concerned, but neither will offer further information.

What's the Arabic for..?

The campaign grows to grant asylum for all those Iraqis who have worked for the British Armed Forces in Iraq. Bloggerheads publishes a list of bloggers who support the campaign, while Chicken Yoghurt and Pickled Politics have been keeping track of MPs who have responded to the letter writing campaign.

Over at The Ministry of Truth, Unity has produced some blog banners that you can add to your own site, linking to an appropriate explanatory article such as the one published by Dan. My favourite is this one:

What is the Arabic for We'll stand by you?

What’s the Arabic for “We’ll stand by you?” – We can’t turn them away

Continue reading “What's the Arabic for..?”

We can’t turn them away

This time, I am behind the blog cycle, rather than the mainstream news cycle! Many others have already linked to Dan Hardie’s campaign to ensure that all Iraqis who have worked for British forces are given asylum if they ask for it.

There is now considerable evidence that their lives, and the lives of their families, are at risk: some former workers for the British have been murdered, and many others have fled to neighbouring countries or gone into hiding in Basra. The British Government, for whom they were ultimately working, has not offered them the right of asylum in the UK. This is morally unacceptable.

The most detailed recent report, by Jonathan Miller of Channel Four news, notes the murder of 17 translators in one single incident in Basra.

Dan suggests we write to our MPs, and even provides some handy text that you can paste into a letter or e-mail.

I recall that the plight of Iraqis was one of the first arguments against Tony Blair’s account of the war. When the WMDs failed to appear, the reasons for war quickly shifted to the brutality of the Saddam regime. While this might have been a convincing argument for many, it was certainly not a convincing reason for the government, who had denied many asylum applications from Iraqi before the war. It was therefore misleading and duplicitous for Blair to cite this as a reason post hoc.

However, the current British policy towards foreign nationals who help the armed services is unsurprising. The Ghurka regiment has for many years been mistreated by the government, with former soldiers denied citizenship, or even a pension on equal terms with other British servicemen.

Interestingly, the recent successful campaign to allow one former ghurka (a holder of the Victoria Cross, no less) to be given UK citizenship was also propagated online. The VC Hero site was set up by Tul Bahadur Pun’s solicitors, and a online campaign added political pressure. So Dan Hardie’s initiative stands a good chance of success.