Hundreds of Afghan interpreters earned UK visas after risking their lives alongside British troops on the front lines in Helmand, but now face a struggle to live normal lives in the UK. In a three-part series the South Wales Argus reporter SAM FERGUSON spent time with three interpreters now living in Newport.

Their names have been changed to protect themselves and their families – who are still in Afghanistan. This is the second of their stories.

KHAN, not his real name, grew up in a refugee camp in Pakistan.

His parents fled their native Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War, as communist Russian forces occupied the country.

Khan’s father earned money by teaching children in the camp, where the youngster was able to learn English.

The family were eventually turfed out by the Pakistani government in 2007 and they returned to Logar province in the South East of the country.

Back home, Khan soon found work as a radio and print journalist.

But in 2011 he signed up as an interpreter with the British Army. He was granted a visa in 2016 after serving on the front lines in Helmand and the 28-year-old now lives in Newport and works as a mobile phone repairman in Caerphilly. He says he cannot marry and have a family because he would not be able to bring his wife to the UK under strict immigration laws which originally said interpreters can only bring wives and children from the country at the same time they leave.

But in a change of policy announced today (Thursday, March 7) Home Secretery Sajid Javid announced a change in the rules which means that interpreters who were married when they left Afghanistan could now bring their wives and children to the UK.

This excludes interpreters who married after they left Afghanistan, and gives no comfort to Khan.

READ MORE: Strict immigration laws are forcing Afghan interpreters who live in Newport and served with British to be apart from their families

Bringing a wife or child over now would mean Khan has to earn at least £18,600 and find a wife who can speak English. Neither is likely anytime soon, he said.

“We wanted to serve our country in anyway we could,” explained Khan.

“It was a chance to explain our culture to the soldiers. More than anything, I wanted to help and protect my own people.”

Khan remembers a time that the Taliban questioned a close friend of his, and asked if Khan was still an interpreter.

South Wales Argus:

Luckily, his friend covered for him, but Khan said the incident scared him.

Since leaving, he knows word of his involvement has spread back home, and says he has no doubt the Taliban would kill him if he tried to go home.

“My family would also be in trouble,” he added.

“For now they are OK, but they don’t go too far from home. They are scared too.

“I worry about them all the time.If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t be an interpreter. The Taliban were weak when I joined, but now they are strong again.”

Khan says he feels let down by the coalition forces, who eventually scaled down their presence in the country.

“They had so many good projects, and were rebuilding the country. They were creating lots of jobs for Afghan people. But now there is nothing like that.”

He served as an interpreter with the Marines, Mercian Regiment, the Royal Anglican Regiment and the Close Support Logistics Regiment. For two years he was on front-line duty, risking his life alongside British troops.

“Going on patrol was very scary, to be honest.

South Wales Argus:

(Nine interpreters who served in Helmand now live in Newport)

“I’ve seen IEDs [improvised explosive devices] go off and kill soldiers, kill civilians. Right in front of me."

Khan remembers one time when the Taliban planted an IED in a field next to a farmer’s home.

The farmer owned one sheep and one cow. Both were killed when the IED exploded.

“He came to us crying,” said Khan.

“He had no way to feed himself now.

“The Taliban were going to force him to pay money for exploding their IED. He wanted me and the soldiers to stop them.

“But what could we do, really? We could only say we will watch for them. Sometimes you just couldn’t help.”

Khan’s dream is to return home to find a wife. But with the strict immigration rules currently in place for Afghan interpreters living in the UK, he says his life is on hold.

“All I have left now is hope,” he said.

“I cannot go home to see my family. It is too expensive for me, and too unsafe for them. I cannot get married because I would have to leave my wife in Afghanistan.

“One day, I want to marry, of course. A woman from my country, from my tribe. That's our culture. But I would not want to marry and be separated.

“I live my life on hold, waiting in hope.”

The Home Office said a review of the immigration system for families of Afghan Interpreters was “ongoing”.

How did we get here?

IN 2013 coalition forces in Afghanistan announced they were going to withdraw from the country.

After 12 long years of attrition, Western troops were leaving the country behind.

Leaving the terror of improvised explosive devices buried on footpaths and in ditches, on farmland and in doorways.

Leaving behind the confusion of a war with no front lines against an enemy who wore no uniforms.

Leaving the memory of disfigured soldiers seared onto the consciousness of an entire generation.

But they also left people behind. Young men who had signed up with coalition forces in an effort to rebuild their shattered country, using their English language skills on front line patrols with British troops.

They shared their victories and their defeats, their gains and losses.

Eventually, after pressure from media and the armed forces, 430 “local staff” from Afghanistan, including interpreters who had served 12 months or more with British forces in Helmand, were granted visas to relocate to the UK.

If they had stayed in Afghanistan, some would now be dead – victims of the resurgent Taliban.

Now safe from the Taliban, some face another battle.

A battle against the Government to allow their wives and children to join them in the UK.

Although the relocation scheme allowed for immediate family members to leave with their loved ones and come to the UK, the reality on the ground often made this impossible.

Interpreters faced some stark choices.

Leave with wives and children in the knowledge that doing so would expose them as interpreters and put their family left behind at risk.

Stay in Afghanistan, and hope their cover stories held as the Taliban once again grew in strength.

Rely on the Government’s ‘Intimidation scheme’ – focussed on relocating interpreters to other parts of Afghanistan - which was derided as a total failure in a 2018 House of Commons report.

Or to take their visas, and believe the promises that bringing family members to join them in the UK after the dust had settled would not be a difficult process.

At least nine ended up in Newport. Three agreed to tell us about their lives.

In this short series of three special reports, we will tell you their stories.