Military in the dark about Afghan interpreters

Defence officials are unable to evaluate the claims of 37 of its former interpreters because the private firm they were hired through is ignoring information requests

The defence minister, Nick Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), says he has no idea what has happened to one fifth of the Afghan interpreters who have worked for the Danish forces in Afghanistan.

Of the 195 interpreters who worked for the Danish military during the War in Afghanistan, 37 were hired via the private US firm Mission Essential Personnel, which continues to ignore requests by the military concerning information about the interpreters. 

“I cannot guarantee equal treatment [for the privately-hired interpreters] at this point, no. But the agreement that was secured means that they can contact us themselves if they feel threatened,” Hækkerup told Berlingske newspaper.

Because Mission Essential Personnel is a private company, Hækkerup is unable to use political channels to contact the US secretary of defence, Chuck Hagel, but Hækkerup said that he would be making a trip to the US in the near future to address the issue.

“I’ll be travelling to the US later this month and it would only be natural to obtain information about the interpreters,” Hækkerup said.

The Danish military first tried contacting the US firm about the interpreters in early May, but has yet to receive a response three months later despite several more efforts.

The missing information about the interpreters, such as their names and their employment periods, are essential because they will be used to evaluate whether the interpreters have a legitimate claim to asylum in Denmark in connection with the agreement that the government signed with Venstre, Konservative and Liberal Alliance this spring.

The agreement stipulates that interpreters who could be in danger as a result of their affiliation with the Danish forces can be granted local assistance or asylum to Denmark.

Nikolaj Villumsen, a spokesperson for left-wing party Enhedslisten, was disappointed with the unclear status of the interpreters.

“It is completely unacceptable. The interpreters can be in immense peril without the military even knowing about it,” Villumsen told Information newspaper. “The minister said that he would not forsake the interpreters but that what may end up happening with the interpreters from this firm.”

The human rights organisation Amnesty International is equally frustrated with the situation, stressing that human lives are at stake.

“We were under the impression that they had found a solution, but this is completely grotesque. These people are a target for the Taleban so they can’t wait around for the case processing to begin,” Ole Hoff-Lund, a spokesperson for Amnesty International Denmark, told Information.

Furthermore, Denmark has now left the interpreters issue in the hands of the British government, which will begin evaluating the interpreters’ asylum claims at the end of this year at the earliest.

The military has used about 195 locally-hired interpreters in the Helmand province in Afghanistan since 2008 – 158 were hired through the British military and 37 through the private US firm Mission Essential Personnel.

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