Illegal entry charges dropped in case of ‘scared’ Afghan interpreter
Watch the British Forces News interview with Andrew Morris of Hine Solicitors
Elias Motasham, 24, who survived a 2009 attack by an Afghan policeman that left five British soldiers dead, can now leave Wormwood Scrubs.
Criminal charges against an Afghan interpreter who entered Britain illegally to escape Taleban death threats were dropped yesterday in recognition of his service to British troops.
Elias Motasham, 24, who survived a 2009 attack by an Afghan policeman that left five British soldiers dead, was told that he could leave Wormwood Scrubs, where he has been held since July for trying to enter the country without a passport. He was visibly relieved as he stood in the dock at Isleworth Crown Court.
In a statement read by his solicitor, Andrew Morris, Mr Motasham said: “I would like to thank the British people who have considered my problem and said I am not guilty. I feel very good.”
The case highlights the challenge facing the Government about how to deal with Afghan interpreters who say they are at risk because of their work with the military.
The proceedings were discontinued thanks, in part, to a glowing reference from the interpreter’s commanding officer in Kabul, who confirmed that he had raised concerns about intimidation.
Ravinder Johal, for the prosecution, told The Times that it was not in the public interest to continue to pursue the interpreter “in view of his contribution to British forces in Afghanistan”.
Mr Motasham has worked as an Army interpreter since graduating from university in Kabul in 2008. Instead of being set free, however, he faces an anxious and lonely wait at an immigration removals centre near Heathrow to learn whether an application for asylum has been successful.
“I worked with the British Army in the bad times and the good times in a war zone,” he said. “I was in the worst place but all my efforts have been paid back. I feel in Afghanistan I had my life on the line for the British people. I enjoyed it not because of the situation but because of the people who I worked with. I loved working with the British Army.”
The Times highlighted last month the plight of Afghan interpreters who said that the threat from Taleban insurgents was growing, particularly as Britain and its allies prepared to scale down their presence in the country.
They urged David Cameron to let them move to Britain, as happened with hundreds of Iraqi interpreters after a campaign by this newspaper. Some serving soldiers, however, have said that such a move would be counter-productive, depriving Afghanistan of some of its most talented people.
The Ministry of Defence indicated that intimidation suffered by its workforce was far smaller than Afghan sources claimed. Only 30 of about 2,230 interpreters who had left British Government employment in Afghanistan since 2006 quit because of intimidation, the ministry said in response to a Freedom of Information request.
Afghan interpreters had put the tally of threat-related resignations at up to 30 people in the past year alone.
One Afghan man who worked for British forces until recently claimed that the MoD figure was “completely wrong”. He added: “They just don’t want to face up to reality.”
At present Britain employs 980 Afghan staff in Afghanistan, including 650 interpreters, 160 cleaners and 60 mechanics.
If Mr Motasham’s asylum application is approved, he hopes to find a regular civilian job or continue to work as a cultural adviser for the military, providing soldiers with lessons on Afghan society and habits before they are sent to the front line. “I might join the British Army,” he added.
Mr Motasham’s alleged intimidation included a death threat posted through his parents’ door in Kabul. He was stopped at Heathrow on July 16.