Fears remain for interpreters' safety despite PM's concessions

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Gordon Brown bowed to intense pressure last night by announcing that around 500 Iraqi interpreters and their families could be admitted to Britain following death threats for working for coalition forces.

The Prime Minister's decision to ease the rules for humanitarian reasons was welcomed by a human rights group. But Tom Porteous, London director of Human Rights Watch, voiced concern for other Iraqi interpreters who had already fled their home country after seeing their colleagues "kidnapped, tortured and killed" and "putting their lives on the line for the British".

The Prime Minister told MPs he was changing the policy on visa applications by Iraqi interpreters "so that it more fully recognises the contribution made by our local Iraqi staff who work for our armed forces and civilian missions in uniquely difficult circumstances."

The new rules will apply to interpreters who have been employed by Britain in Iraq for more than 12 months and have completed their work and others who had left since the beginning of 2005.

They will be able to apply for "a package of financial payments to aid resettlement elsewhere in Iraq or elsewhere in the region or – in agreed circumstances – for admission to the UK".

Mr Porteous estimated that as many as 100 interpreters were now stuck in Syria and Jordan, having fled for their lives. "It's a step forward from the disgraceful position the UK has had until now – which is to do nothing," Mr Porteous said. "But I am very concerned about the fate of the many former Iraqi interpreters who have fled Iraq because it is too dangerous to stay."

There has been a growing campaign at Westminster for the interpreters to be given special treatment. A meeting of MPs was being organised for next week. One campaigner accused the Government of "abandoning others, equally threatened with death but who've worked for less than 12 months. They're playing a numbers game with people's lives."