'Betrayed' Iraqi staff in test case over UK's refusal to offer asylum

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The Independent Online

Iraqi interpreters, clerical staff and labourers who face death threats and persecution after risking their lives working for British forces are challenging the Government's refusal to grant them sanctuary in the UK.

A test case in the High Court will accuse the Government of abandoning former Iraqi staff who have fled their homes after being branded "spies and collaborators" by the Shia militias. Many have seen their homes bombed, family members killed or have received death threats.

All hoped they would receive help under the terms of the UK Government's resettlement and compensation scheme set up last year. But their hopes have been dashed by what they say are harsh rules which have betrayed Iraqis who came to Britain's aid when it needed them most.

Ishmael, 44, (not his real name) clutches a handful of glowing job references written by the British Army during 19 months as an interpreter. "He has proved honest, trustworthy and loyal. I would not hesitate recommending him," wrote an officer with 20th Armoured Brigade.

Ishmael, an English teacher, returned from Jordan after the invasion of Iraq in July 2003 because he hoped the British would bring peace to his country. He joined British patrols in Basra, translated during the questioning of terror suspects and persuaded other Iraqis to work with the British. Promoted to senior supervisor in charge of a group of interpreters and translators. But on 19 March 2005, a militia group raided his home while he was at work and threatened his wife and children.

Ishmail spent nearly two years in hiding, unable to see his wife and children. When he heard that the British Government was offering protection under its resettlement programme, he went to the embassy in Damascus.

"I couldn't even get past the guards. They didn't want to know me any more. I'd given up everything to help the British, but they wouldn't even listen to my case."

Not all the interpreters managed to escape. On 8 August 2006, Sami Faleh, 44, told his wife to take their three children to Kuwait where her sister still lived.

His wife, Suhad Jassim, 40, remembers: "I asked if there had been trouble. He said no, but told me I should leave and he would join me later." Six days later Sami was dead. Armed militia had kidnapped him after he had finished his shift at the British base.

"I got a call from my sister. They drove him away, tortured him, then murdered him, just because he worked for the British."

Suhad received $5,000 from the British. She has instructed London lawyers Leigh Day & Co to take her case and if necessary sue the Government for proper compensation or the right to live in the UK. Sapna Malik, partner at Leigh Day & Co, said Suhad had been barely surviving since her husband's death.

Commenting on the 12 cases being prepared for the High Court, Ms Malik said: "The Government's assistance programme is harsh and illogical. These people are in almost daily fear for their lives. The criteria set by the Government do not reflect the reality on the ground."