UK, Denmark eyes visas for Afghan interpreters

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By SYLVIA HUI, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Britain and Denmark are proposing to give hundreds of Afghan interpreters who worked alongside their troops the right to settle in the U.K. and Denmark in recognition of the risks to their personal safety.

The plans, released Wednesday, will allow about 600 interpreters who have worked on the front lines in Afghanistan for more than a year to relocate to Britain on a five-year visa. Those who do not meet the requirement will get a training and education package with the Afghan security forces and wages equivalent to their current salary, or be given 18 months' salary.

Britain, which contributes the second-largest number of troops to NATO's operation in Afghanistan after the U.S., is preparing to end its combat role there by the end of 2014.

"The prime minister has been very clear that we should not turn our backs on those who have trod the same path as our soldiers in Helmand, consistently putting their lives at risk to help our troops achieve their mission," a statement from Prime Minister David Cameron's office at Downing Street said, referring to the volatile southern Helmand province.

"These proposals give them a choice: The opportunity to go on working in Afghanistan, learning new skills and to go on rebuilding their country, or to come and make a new start in Britain," it said.

The statement appeared to signal a change of heart by Cameron, who earlier this month told reporters he believed most Afghan interpreters should stay in their country to help rebuild it after years of conflict.

Downing Street said Wednesday that officials are expected to finalize the proposals within days, but British media, quoting government sources, reported that the plans have already been approved.

Some welcomed Britain's move though others raised concerns that many interpreters who do not qualify for the plans may be left in danger.

Rosa Curling, a lawyer representing three Afghan interpreters who launched a court case on the issue, said limiting the offer to front-line staff would offer no protection to Afghan translators who don't meet that criteria.

"These interpreters remain at risk from threats from the Taliban and to refuse them access to the same resettlement options would be unacceptable," she said.

Officials in Denmark, which deploys forces to Afghanistan under British command, also announced similar proposals Wednesday. Afghans who worked as interpreters for Danish forces in Helmand would be granted visas to Denmark, where they can apply for asylum, Defense Minister Nick Haekkerup said.

"We do not have a judicial responsibility but a moral obligation to help," Haekkerup said.

The minister had no estimate of how many Afghans would be affected.

Denmark is due to pull out of combat operations in Afghanistan in August, leaving 300 soldiers to train Afghan forces.

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Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

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