AN AFGHAN interpreter who faces the threat of being killed by the Taliban after being dismissed from his job with British forces has written to David Cameron, urging the prime minister to help him “escape the death” that awaits him and his young family.
Wahidullah Noori, 25, who served British soldiers and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 5½ years, gave an interview to The Sunday Times three weeks ago in which he highlighted the government’s failure to protect interpreters who receive death threats from the Taliban.
A week later, British officials in Helmand told Noori he was being made redundant. They said they could no longer afford his monthly wage of £710.
Noori says he was given two hours to pack his bags before they walked him to the gates of the British base in Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital.
Refusing to let him stay the night while he waited for a flight to Kabul, they told him to find a hostel in Lashkar Gah, where Taliban spies and gunmen are known to operate.
“I risked my life for British forces and the British government,” wrote Noori, who has a three-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter, in his letter to Cameron. “Yet how do they repay me? They took my job, which means they repay me by sending me to die at the hands of the Taliban.
“I am frightened, alone and in hiding. I cannot leave my house to find a job because of the fear. I beg you, sir, to help me and my young family escape the death that waits for us.”
News of Noori’s dismissal came as Cameron indicated that only in extreme cases would interpreters be allowed to resettle in Britain.
Iraqi interpreters were given the right to come to Britain after the war in Iraq but Cameron wants the Afghans to be given money and encouraged to stay and rebuild their country.
Cameron’s remarks drew criticism from Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, as well as former heads of the British Army, British soldiers who served in Afghanistan and MPs.
“We have paid a price in Afghanistan for our involvement,” said Lord Ashdown, a former special forces officer. “We should not add to that by dishonouring men who have put their lives on the line for us.”
In the eyes of the Taliban, Noori is a traitor. He has served in some of the most violent parts of Helmand with special forces and regular troops.
He has bandaged the wounds of British soldiers blown up by Taliban bombs and has seen colleagues die. He has sat with insurgent commanders during secret negotiations with the British. Soldiers who have worked with him praise his ability and dedication.
The Taliban have repeatedly threatened to kill Noori. His brother was shot in the leg and a rocket-propelled grenade was fired into his family home after he ignored “night letters” fixed to the door of his home that warned him to leave his job.
According to Noori, British officials said they could not help him. The Foreign Office declined to comment. In 2011, William Hague, the foreign secretary, said interpreters “who have put their life on the line for the United Kingdom will not be abandoned”.
For interpreters such as Noori this pledge rings hollow. He is left with only two options: stay in Afghanistan and risk being tracked and killed, or flee the country illegally.
Both options are perilous. The Taliban have stated that Afghans who collaborate with foreign forces should be placed on kill lists and executed. But heading to Europe would cost Noori $25,000 (£16,000) in smuggler fees. Even if he could find the money, the risks are enormous.
One interpreter, who worked for British forces in Helmand for two years and remembers dragging a wounded soldier to safety during a firefight, fled Afghanistan in 2011 after insurgents murdered his father.
Barilaly Shams, 26, says he paid to have his mother, sister and younger brother smuggled out of the country while he stayed behind to sell property.
Weeks later they were reunited in Greece. Shams sent his family ahead on a boat to Italy. But it sank off Corfu and 22 refugees drowned, including his mother and sister.
“When I told the British about the Taliban’s threats, they said only ‘We are sorry.’ I grew scared. I couldn’t stay in Afghanistan,” he said. “Now all I have is hurt and pain.”
The cases of Shams and Noori are by no means isolated. More than 90% of interpreters say they have received threats from the Taliban, according to one survey. Five interpreters have been murdered while on leave and 25 killed in action.
On Friday lawyers for three Afghan interpreters launched a High Court action for the right to settle in the UK. America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia all offer Afghan interpreters asylum.
According to a YouGov poll for the British Future think tank, 60% of people with an opinion believe the interpreters should be given asylum.
“They should have the choice of whether they remain or whether they leave,” said General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the British Army. “These people have risked their lives, some of them for years, to help the British armed forces. There’s a moral duty upon us as a country to ensure they are looked after.”
As the government debates what to do, Noori remains a prisoner in his new home. He says strange men have already begun to knock on his door in the dead of night.
“From five years [while I worked for the British] I only have sadness and sorrow . . . men I had known so well treated me like I was some kind of stranger — like they didn’t know me any more,” he said.