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Cameron handed 70,000-name Afghan interpreters petition

A man holds a petition in London calling for asylum for Aghan interpreters who served the British army on May 3, 2013. Winston Churchill's great-grandson delivered a petition with more than 70,000 signatures to Prime Minister David Cameron's office, demanding action to protect Afghan interpreters who have served with British troops.AFP/File

Winston Churchill's great-grandson on Wednesday delivered a petition with more than 70,000 signatures to Prime Minister David Cameron's office, demanding action to protect Afghan interpreters who have served with British troops.

Alexander Perkins, a former soldier who has served two tours in Afghanistan himself, said Britain owed the interpreters a "huge debt" and they would be "sent to their deaths" if they were not offered asylum.

Some 600 Afghan interpreters who served on the frontline with British forces are being offered UK visas under a relocation package announced in May, while around 600 others will qualify for training or education in Afghanistan as well as payment for up to five years.

But Perkins, 27, said that the deal falls "short of the mark" as it offers only five-year visas rather than permanent residence in Britain, and only applies to interpreters with 12 months' continuous service before December 19, 2012.

"We're pulling out in 2014 and we're going to leave these guys behind," Perkins said as he handed in the petition.

"There's a fair chance that a large number of these guys are going to be persecuted by the Taliban, and some of them probably will end up being killed."

Perkins set up the petition on the website Change.org, calling for Britain to offer resettlement to interpreters who completed their duties between 2006 and 2011.

He added that his great-grandfather Churchill "would have been shocked by the way our government is treating men who risked their lives to help British forces".

Britain is withdrawing 3,800 of its 9,000 troops from Afghanistan this year, as NATO prepares for a full security handover to Afghan forces at the end of 2014.

A government spokesman described the redundancy package for Afghan staff as "comprehensive", adding that Britain ensures protection, including the possibility of relocation, is offered to any former employees facing threats regardless of when they worked.

"The prime minister has been very clear that we should not turn our backs on our local staff in Afghanistan," the spokesman said.