LONDON Three men who worked as interpreters for British forces in Afghanistan began a legal challenge on Friday to win the right to live in Britain, arguing they are at risk of Taliban reprisals as the soldiers they helped prepare to return home.
They are challenging the British government's decision to refuse them the support offered to interpreters in Iraq, who were offered the right to indefinite leave to enter or settle in Britain or instead a compensation package.
The outcome of the case could affect the fate of about 500 other Afghan interpreters who have worked for British forces.
Britain's 9,000 combat troops in Afghanistan are due to leave the country by the end of 2014, with nearly half of them expected to pull out this year, ending a war that has lasted over a decade and cost the lives of nearly 450 British troops.
The three Afghans say that despite being resettled several times within Afghanistan, they have still been tracked down by the Taliban, who were toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
The say their lives are at risk, as well as the lives of their friends and families.
British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to offer interpreters who worked for British forces support to stay in Afghanistan and has said officials are drawing up an offer to encourage them to stay and help rebuild the country.
A petition of nearly 80,000 signatures was handed into Britain's Foreign Office on Friday calling for Afghan interpreters to be offered asylum.
Supporters include former Lib Dems party leader and ex-Royal Marine Paddy Ashdown. "We leave Afghanistan having paid a terrible price. We should not add dishonour to it," Ashdown told Reuters.
"It would be act of dishonour for us to leave Afghanistan without ensuring that they have at very least a choice between a large sum of money ... or the chance to make sure that they and their families are not killed when we leave."
The three interpreters have issued a claim at the High Court in London challenging the government's decision not to treat them in the same way as Iraqi interpreters.
The government has three weeks to decide whether to agree to the interpreters' demand or dispute it. If it disputes it, the court would decide whether to review the government's policy.
(Reporting By Costas Pitas; Editing by Pravin Char)