An Afghan man who worked as an interpreter for the British Army in Helmand Province has been granted the right to remain in the UK after waiting for two years.
Hafizzulah Husseinkhel, 27, has spoken exclusively to The Independent after two-and-a-half years of “mental torture” came to an end when he received a positive asylum decision from the Home Office.
The Afghan national put his life on the line working for the British Army between 2010 and 2012. He fled his country after receiving death threats from the Taliban, and arrived in the UK in 2014.
Yet Mr Husseinkhel was threatened with deportation and forced to spend a total of 48 days in immigration detention after the Home Office rejected his asylum claim on multiple occasions.
A plan to remove him from the country in December was halted after his plight was revealed by The Independent, prompting an outcry from former military colleagues who campaigned to let him remain in the UK.
Former British Army troops and squadron leaders who worked with Mr Husseinkhel during the Afghan conflict said he “risked his life” on the front line in and around Helmand Province.
Speaking in London after receiving the letter granting him leave to remain, the 27-year-old said he was pleased to finally have UK status, but felt he had been “punished” by the Home Office.
“It’s been two-and-a-half years of mental torture. I’ve tried so hard to get through to someone at the Home Office, but I got nothing,” he said.
“When I got to the UK, I explained to the government why I was here. They know everything about what I’ve done for this country – how I put my life at risk. But they ignored everything. It felt like I was being punished.”
Mr Husseinkhel urged that policy should change to help other interpreters who are still “in limbo”. He said: “I have lots of other Afghan interpreters who have put their lives on the line but are still waiting. The Home Office has let down interpreters. They put us in a really horrible situation.
“I didn’t leave Afghanistan because I wanted to. I was in danger and was putting my family in danger there. The Ministry of Defence should call on the Home Office to protect interpreters. We’ve done a good job. But the Home Office has let us down.”
His comments come after a damning report by MPs found that Afghan interpreters who served for the British Army have been “dismally failed” by the UK government, with a scheme designed to offer them protection failing to bring a single one to safety in Britain.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced earlier this month that Afghan interpreters who worked with British troops fighting the Taliban would be allowed to stay in the UK for free, but it emerged shortly after that the policy only applied to those who arrived in the UK on a specific five year visa scheme in 2012.
Simon Diggins, a retired colonel who worked in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2010, said there were around 2,000 interpreters who worked for the army and had been granted no protection. He called for wider changes over the protection offered to interpreters.
“They were vital. It wasn’t just about providing translation services. What they gave us was insights into the culture, the background. They could really help us to understand what was going on,” he told The Independent.
“We need a change in policy. There’s a better way of doing this. These interpreters shouldn’t have to apply for asylum. We should be looking after people who we relied on. I’ve not met a single member of the armed forces who isn’t passionate about this.”
Mr Husseinkhel, who has been living in Derby for the past two years volunteering as a translator at the local refugee centre, said it would take him time to settle into a normal life.
“It’s been so horrible. There was no one to listen to my story. Being in detention – locked up with criminals jailed for 18 years – was terrible. It will take time to get over this.
“The Home Office let me down. But I have no words to say how much I appreciate everyone here who supported me."
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