The Government is trying to define down the Iraqi employees it is under pressure to accept as refugees after the forthcoming UK withdrawal from Basra. With the Murdoch press, it is signalling that some 91 interpreters might be accepted, but at the same time that there are as many as 20,000 people involved. That figure of 91 remains remarkably constant, although it’s never been explained who exactly is covered by it and who is not; for example, are the interpreters’ dependents included?
On the other hand, the figure of 20,000 looks suspiciously round; and anyway, if we had had 20,000 informers in southern Iraq, we might not be in this mess. I have good reason to suspect that this figure is deliberately exaggerated, in order to either a) scare the public with visions of hordes of refugees, or b) to make the real figure look smaller. Obviously (b) is preferable, if you believe the government might do it. Interestingly, this upper bound estimate is now coming down; I saw 15,000 quoted today.
But the entire shadow play is ridiculous; it is not a question of numbers, but of principles. This does not make it an impractical question, either. The principle is simple; that the people most at risk should go first. The solution is simple; the Government should accept all those whose service endangers their life, and make arrangements for their evacuation.
What is required is not immensely complicated. Everyone on the list should be considered, and for that matter anyone else they think of. Members of the MND(SE) Interpreters cell, the Army organisation that recruited them, know the people better than anyone else. The UK Visas organisation in the Foreign Office and the Borders and Immigration Agency are in the business of interviewing refugees and issuing travel documents; MI5 or the Defence Vetting Agency that of security vetting. An ad-hoc processing group from these organisations could be put together reasonably quickly and deployed to Iraq. Its task would be to interview everyone who thinks they are in danger as current or former employees, and issue the papers.
Simultaneously, it should consult with the Army in preparing a plan for evacuation. This would involve moving the families into the Basra Air Station for the time being, a better idea than trying to collect them all on evacuation day, and then sending them to the UK in small groups on the regular airbridge, so as not to present a target. This would be fairly similar to one of the various evacuations of foreign nationals from war zones that the military has occasionally conducted, although there is a time factor – it would be far easier to conduct it whilst there are still troops in the city itself, rather than having to re-enter.
But crucially, there must be no arbitrary decision to take some number and no more. It is time to stick to principle, and that’s why the campaign goes on.