Tuesday 21 October 2008
The Daily Star
By Michael Glackin
The turmoil on the world's financial markets is getting serious. I bumped into a stock broker acquaintance the other day who complained he hadn't enjoyed a decent night's sleep in months. Feeling rather sorry for him, I asked how much money he had lost. "I haven't lost anything", he told me. "All my cash is stuffed under my mattress, has been for months. It's safer there but makes my bed a rather uncomfortable place to sleep."
Unfortunately his clients are not so fortunate, and so my acquaintance is probably one of the people British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had in mind last week when he criticized bankers, fund managers and other financiers for what he called a "lack of morals." As the world financial meltdown intensified, despite heavy government intervention across the globe, Brown insisted "financial markets need morals."
Brown is fond of pontificating about morals. Not so long ago he boastfully told us he had a "moral compass" that guided his decision making and underpinned his political principles. But frankly, far from lecturing people on morality, Brown could do with discovering a few morals himself.
The plight of Iraqi interpreters working for the British Army in Iraq offers a good example of the prime minister's duplicity when it comes to moral standards.
Twelve months ago Brown's government introduced the British Locally Engaged Staff Assistance Scheme. The scheme was supposed to help those Iraqis who had put their lives at risk working for Britain's armed forces in Basra - doing everything from interpreting to washing soldiers' uniforms - to settle in the UK.
Around 20,000 Iraqis have worked for the British armed forces since the invasion. Many of them, along with their families, have suffered intimidation, abduction, torture and murder at the hands of militias who see them as "enemy collaborators." Fearing for their lives many are now in hiding and want to leave Iraq.
However, instead of helping these people, the British Locally Engaged Staff Assistance Scheme actually erected a series of insurmountable hurdles which prevent Iraqi interpreters and others employed by the British in Iraq from ever getting into the UK.
Under the scheme there are 600 resettlement places for Iraqi staff and their dependants in the UK over the next two years. Up to September, there have been more than 1,100 applications for those 600 places. Official figures reveal that more than 500 of those applicants have been assessed as ineligible for resettlement in the UK.
The criteria for the scheme are very strict. Only those who have worked as interpreters or other similarly skilled or professional roles for a minimum of 12 consecutive months from the start of January 2005 are eligible to apply for resettlement. In fact, according to Leigh Day & Co., a law firm that is representing some of the Iraqi interpreters, only 158 former staff are actually being considered for resettlement in the UK. But it gets worse. When I spoke to the Foreign Office last week, a spokesperson told me that only 23 Iraqis have actually arrived in the UK under the scheme, which has now been running for a year.
In short, it would be easier to break into Fort Knox in broad daylight dressed as Osama bin Laden than get into the UK via this scheme. Meanwhile, dozens of Iraqis who have worked for the British Army are being murdered and threatened on a regular basis.
One interpreter had his application rejected because he had only worked for the British Army for 11 months and three weeks, just six days short of the required 12 months. Four interpreters he worked with during his time with the army have all been murdered. After escaping one attempt on his life he is currently in hiding outside Basra.
Another interpreter, who worked for British forces for six months, was forced to flee to Syria after his father was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. The killers telephoned him to tell him he would be next and played a tape recording of his father's screams while being tortured. Despite being married to a UK citizen he has been refused a visa to come to the UK to join her.
Another Iraqi, who worked as a laundry assistant and whose original employment with the British Army was subcontracted out to a Western private contractor (KBR), fled to Syria after surviving two attempts on his life. His application to settle in the UK under the scheme was rejected because his employment had been transferred from the UK government to an independent contractor.
The Foreign Office told me that most Iraqis employed by the army have opted to take a one-off cash settlement from the government to remain in Iraq rather than apply for UK resettlement. But Leigh Day & Co. insists this is because most Iraqis believe there is little real chance they will ever be allowed to settle in the UK.
The UK scheme does not compare well with what Britain's coalition partners are doing. Poland for example, which has already resettled 25 of its former Iraqi workers and their families in Poland - more than the UK has managed over the same period - only requires evidence of six months of employment with its forces. America, Australia and Denmark also operate a much less restrictive system. Under one of the American schemes there is no minimum term of service requirement at all, while another scheme covers all workers employed by US subcontractors, something the UK scheme does not.
But you could be forgiven for wondering quite why the interpreters expected the government to behave in a moral and responsible way toward them.
The Gurkhas, legendary Nepalese soldiers who have fought as British soldiers in just about every war the UK has waged over the last 150 years, were forced to go to court this month after the government refused them permission to settle in the UK. In the First World War their service included battling the Ottomans during the Arab Revolt alongside the Arab armies of Faisal and Abdullah with Lawrence of Arabia. More recently they have fought in the Falklands, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite this Brown's government insisted the Gurkhas had "no strong ties" to the UK and refused a large number of Gurkha veterans the right to settle in Britain. The High Court thought otherwise, and ruled the UK government's policy toward the Gurkhas was unlawful.
Unfortunately a similar move on behalf of Iraqi workers was thrown out by the High Court last month. Leigh Day & Co. barrister Daniel Leader acknowledged the ruling means the legal route to get justice for the Iraqi interpreters and others is effectively closed but added: "We will be working to highlight the plight of our clients and it is hoped that the government will adopt a more humane approach to people who have risked their lives for the British Army."
Never mind the moral compass, someone should pass Gordon Brown a dictionary so he can look up what the word moral actually means. Brown may not be able to shore up the global financial system, but he can definitely act to save the lives of people who have served his cause in Iraq.
Michael Glackin is a journalist and former managing editor of Lebanese newspaper THE DAILY STAR.