Vindicated: delight for Afghan interpreter as he wins fight to stay in UK
An Afghan interpreter has told of his delight after finally winning his battle to stay in the UK.
Mohammad Rafi Hottak, who now lives in Belgrave, Leicester, worked for British forces in Afghanistan and was severely injured by a Taliban bomb.
He fled Afghanistan after receiving death threats from the Taliban and came to the UK, hoping for asylum.
However, the Home Office initially refused his application.
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Media coverage of the case forced the Home Office to look at his claim again.
Now, officials have admitted mistakes were made when the claim was originally dealt with – and told him he can stay in the UK.
The 26-year-old father of three, who has been granted refugee status to remain here indefinitely, said: "I feel very happy. Delighted.
"This has brought happiness to many people – myself, my family and everyone who has supported me. I am glad that the Home Office and the Government have recognised my services to the country.
"I feel vindicated, although I am disappointed I had to go through this in the first place.
"For the past 18 months I have been alive but I wasn't living.
"It was really frustrating, my fate was unknown."
Leicester East MP Keith Vaz took up Mohammad's case against the UK Border Agency (UKBA), the Home Office department which deals with applications from people seeking asylum.
The UKBA originally turned down Mohammad's application, saying he did not have evidence of how he was injured, that he was an Afghan, or that his life was under threat – despite supporting evidence being provided by British officers.
Mr Vaz said: "Mr Hottak should never have had to go through such a lengthy process with the UKBA bureaucracy.
"We owe asylum to interpreters who have risked their lives for our forces.
"This sets a very important precedent for future decisions and I hope it will allow others in his position to be shown the same compassion."
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "Following inconsistencies in the original claim, significant new evidence was subsequently put forward, resulting in a decision to grant Mr Hottak asylum.
"We are now working with the Ministry of Defence to improve the process for obtaining information about individuals who have worked with the Armed Forces to ensure this does not happen again."
Mohammad said that his next step, once he had received official documentation, would be to ask for help to be reunited with his family.
"They have also made sacrifices and deserve the right to join me and live a peaceful life here," he said.
"My parents had to live with the fact that their two sons – my brother was also an interpreter – may not come home.
"We were called infidels for working with Nato forces.
"They have suffered like I did, not knowing whether we would come home safely or not.
"Many parents in the UK with sons serving on the frontline will understand how they felt."
Mohammed is studying accountancy at Leicester College.
"I want to be able to start a new life here with my family, which is why I am studying to get a job instead of living on benefits," he said.
At least 21 Afghan interpreters have been killed over the past five years and many more have been wounded.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told parliament in September that the Ministry of Defence was working on a programme to ensure their protection when British forces leave Afghanistan in 2014.