Woman describes ‘distressing’ work helping interpreters stranded in Afghanistan
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A British woman offering support to stranded Afghan interpreters who worked with UK forces has described the situation as “massive and distressing”.
Carolyn Webster, 47, a councillor from Bridgend in South Wales, has directly helped two interpreters successfully appeal against Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (Arap) decisions who then made their way to the UK.
Ms Webster estimates that she and a handful of others are currently in contact with around 20 more interpreters who are eligible to come to the UK but have been unable to leave for various reasons.
She told the PA news agency: “(I get) frequent calls from interpreters to let me know that they are struggling financially, to feed their children, or they’re struggling because a member of the family has been taken by Taliban.
“You’ve got men hiding in their houses being hunted. And they’re not getting regular communication from the (UK) Government.
I will look forward to seeing them. Seeing my friends - they are my friends now - arrive in the UK
“They are reaching out to absolutely anyone on Twitter pleading for help, pleading for their lives.
“It is hard work. But I think it’s our moral duty in this country to take the interpreters – they have worked and served this country well.”
Acting as a private citizen, Ms Webster began helping interpreters after voicing her support for them in August, prompting some to get in touch with her for help with their Arap applications.
While most of Ms Webster’s work has spanned thousands of miles, she was recently able to meet one family who she helped reach the UK, and she said it is important to enjoy the successes in order to continue.
“I needed to put a physical presence beyond the words in the box for the people that we’re helping, and it brings it home that they are real people,” she said.
“I will be very happy when I start seeing some more of these men and their families, their babies. I will look forward to seeing them. Seeing my friends – they are my friends now – arrive in the UK.”
Those she is trying to help have been approved to come to the UK through the Arap scheme.
But they are struggling to leave for a number of reasons, such as a lack of documentation or an inability to reach the airport when called forward due to the Taliban’s presence.
The UK pulled its last troops out of Afghanistan at the end of August, leaving the country in the hands of the Taliban for the first time in 20 years.
Operation Pitting saw the UK evacuate more than 15,000 people, but a number of interpreters who worked with the UK over the years remain.
Ms Webster conceded that “government tends to move slowly” and praised the work the UK has done to help those it has relocated so far, but she urged the people in charge to do more to support those left behind.
She said: “I think that it’s been a complicated process for Government to pull together. So I’m slightly forgiving on that front.
“But it’s frustrating, as I said, because of the lack of communication… and inconsistent messaging.
“I would really, really urge the Foreign Office or MoD… please hurry up. I know that they’re stretched, but you’ve got people desperate to just be told that their application is being considered.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “During Operation Pitting, we worked tirelessly to safely evacuate as many people out of Afghanistan as possible, airlifting more than 15,000 people from Kabul, including thousands of Arap applicants and their dependents.
“Since Operation Pitting concluded the RAF has evacuated nearly 500 more people. The Arap scheme remains open to applications and we will continue to support those who are eligible for relocation.”