THE campaign to allow former British armed forces interpreters to come to live and settle in the UK rested on a simple matter of morality.

Having entered the war in Afghanistan in 2001, British forces operated in Helmand Province from 2006 to 2014. It is estimated that during that time the Ministry of Defence (MoD) employed more than 3000 local people with English language skills to act as interpreters. Their assistance was invaluable, and without them, casualties during the conflict with the Taliban would surely have been much higher.

To then abandon them to their fate – knowing that if their role was known or guessed at, they and their families could face reprisals – was not merely wrong, it was unethical. Soldiers and airmen involved in the conflict joined the chorus of voices saying as much. A petition calling for interpreters to be given sanctuary in the UK was signed by 178,000 people, including, MPs, generals and rank and file members of the armed forces.

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While the scheme eventually offered by the MoD was far from perfect, it did go some way towards righting this injustice. So far nearly 400 interpreters and their families have taken advantage of special visas allowing them to stay initially for five years under the Afghan Relocation Scheme.

The scheme is badly flawed. It only allows those employed by the MoD on an arbitrary date in December 2012 to apply, excluding hundreds of interpreters who worked for department between 2001 and 2012. A scheme was set up for these former employees in 2015 – ironically known as the “intimidation” scheme – offering visas to any who can prove they are at risk if they remain in Afghanistan. Defence Minister Mark Lancaster revealed in December that so far not a single additional interpreter has been granted a visa under this scheme.

Of those who were granted leave to stay in to the UK under the prior scheme, some 200 have found themselves living in Scotland. Now it appears they have discovered there is an unpleasant loophole in the arrangements.

While their colleagues living south of the border have been able to apply for college and university places, and the financial assistance on offer to UK citizens to take them up, those based in Scotland have been told a different story. Higher and Further Education Minister Shirley Anne Somerville says because they do not have indefinite leave to remain, they cannot be viewed as “ordinarily resident in Scotland” or “settled” in the UK.

There is an additional layer of irony in the fact that had they been successful asylum seekers, awarded refugee status, such a restriction would not apply.

The majority of these Afghani nationals are well educated, motivated and they clearly have useful skills. However the linguistic ability that served them well in Helmand Province may not be so usable here and so it is understandable that they would wish to update their skills. Should they be allowed to do so, it is less likely they will be reliant on public funds, and more likely they will make an economic contribution to the country which gave them haven.

If the rules are being applied differently in Scotland than they are in England that is plainly an issue that needs to be resolved.

The answer is not, as Ms Somerville suggests, for them to seek indefinite leave to remain. They already have special visa allowing them to live here. And the cost of applying for such status which the UK Government has raised from £150 to £2,300 over the last 15 years – could wipe out any benefits in terms of student support.

Ms Somerville – who admits the situation places Afghani nationals at a disadvantage – has asked officials to look again at the issue. They should do so urgently in the interests of common sense, and common decency.