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.
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.
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.