London: Defence Secretary Des Browne yesterday came under fire in the row over whether Iraqis who worked as interpreters for the British Army should be given asylum here.
The minister was accused of a "masterclass in obfuscation" after appearing to suggest in a radio interview that up to 20,000 Iraqis who have worked with British forces since 2003 in the country may seek refuge in Britain.
Currently only about 600 Iraqis are employees of the British military or the embassy in Baghdad, according to one report.
Tom Porteous, London director of Human Rights Watch, welcomed a review announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown into whether 91 interpreters employed by the British military should be granted asylum.
However, he added: "We are not particularly encouraged by the interview yesterday by the Secretary of State [Mr Browne], which seemed to have been a masterclass in obfuscation. He mentioned this figure of 20,000 which has now been qualified down to 15,000."
He also rejected Browne's claim that the situation was complex. "The situation is actually rather simple. There is a massive refugee crisis in the region," he said. "The British Government has done very little to deal with it either in terms of helping frontline states to cope with the strain or in terms or resettling vulnerable groups, including those who have worked for the British government."
He also said that many of those who had worked for British forces would want to stay in Iraq or the region, rather than coming to the UK, and that some may have died.
It has emerged that one Iraqi translator has already been given asylum here this year in a case that could have a significant bearing on how ministers deal with future applications.