Government to review Iraqi asylum claims

The government will consider giving special priority to Iraqi interpreters claiming asylum in the UK.

Senior army officials had argued a special case should be made for the 91 interpreters who worked for British forces. The Iraqis now fear they will be a target for local militias and wish to claim asylum in the UK.

Whitehall had refused to grant them special privileges and said their case would be reviewed in the standard way. But opposition politicians argued the UK would be failing in its duty of care if it did not swiftly grant the interpreters asylum.

A government spokeswoman said last night the Home Office would look again at the Iraqis’ case.

She said: “We are extremely grateful for the service of locally-employed staff in Iraq and take their security very seriously.

“We recognise that there are concerns about the safety of former employees. The government keeps all such issues under review and we will now look again at the assistance we provide.

“This is a genuinely complex issue and we welcome further discussion, but we need to consider all the options very carefully.”

Speaking to BBC News, defence secretary Des Browne insisted the government took its duty of care “very seriously”.

He acknowledged interpreters feel especially vulnerable in post-war Iraq, being regarded as traitors by local militants.

The Conservatives argue anyone risking their life to help Britain has a strong case of asylum.

William Hague said: “To abandon these people to their fate would be unacceptable. As a matter of honour we have to look after them one way or the other if they have a genuine case”.

Shadow immigration minister Damien Green agreed: “Anyone whose life is at risk because of work they have done for Britain must have a strong case to be granted asylum”.

The Ministry of Defence estimates up to 20,000 Iraqis have helped the British forces since 2003.