Interpreters helped to keep veterans safe while in Afghanistan
Armed forces charity Help for Heroes is to increase its existing support for interpreters and those in similar roles who have been displaced by the conflict in Afghanistan – and is calling on the UK Government to assist with additional funding.
Since 2016, the charity has supported wounded, injured and sick embedded civilians who served under UK command in Afghanistan and other conflicts, and who have been relocated to the UK.
Many of them suffered similar visible and hidden injuries to the British service personnel they worked alongside and befriended. They have also had to cope with trauma, the distress of displacement and separation from friends and family in their homeland – psychological issues that will continue in the future.
Army veteran Duane Fletcher from North Yorkshire was awarded the MBE after commanding a medical team that assisted in developing the first fully-functional Afghan-run trauma centre in Helmand province. Now a veterans’ clinical advisor at Help for Heroes for the North, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the former Lieutenant Colonel was deployed to Afghanistan to mentor a fledgling Afghan medical facility in Shorabak run by the Afghan National Security Force.
He said: “As we were treating critically injured soldiers and Afghan civilians, local interpreters were vital as they could quickly gain people’s trust and break down language barriers as we could only speak a few basic words of Pashto and Dari. If someone came to us who’d been shot in the leg, they didn’t understand us, and we didn’t understand them, but the interpreters made sure we could keep communicating effectively. I designed a brigade patch which we wore on the sleeve of our uniforms which incorporated the Afghan National Security Forces emblem to show that we were one team, working together.
“Without the Afghan interpreters and others, we could not have done our job. Whatever danger I put myself in, I knew that my family and friends were safe – but they helped us regardless so it’s absolutely right that Help for Heroes scales up its services to keep supporting them.”
Help for Heroes’ chief executive, Mel Waters, said: “Local interpreters, and those in similar roles, stood side by side with our troops in Afghanistan. Now, more than ever, they need the nation’s support.
“With the recent increase in arrivals to the UK, we are recruiting a small team to increase our capacity to deliver services to those living with visible or hidden injury or illness. This means we can continue delivering on our promise to be here for wounded veterans and their families for life, while supporting this spike in urgent need.
“We are also urging the government to provide additional funding for this group so we can continue to fight for those who fought for, and with us,” she said.
As the number of Afghan locally embedded civilians relocating to the UK has increased in recent weeks, Help for Heroes – whose charitable objects have recognised the service of embedded civilians since its launch in 2007 – has begun actively recruiting healthcare professionals to cope with the need.
Waters added: “Having delivered services to wounded, injured and sick embedded civilians for a number of years – and with several of our staff having served alongside interpreters in Afghanistan – we have the knowledge, expertise and skills to provide the support that the recent arrivals need and deserve.”
The news has been welcomed by the Afghan community in the UK, and former interpreter Nazir Ayeen said: “It brings me happiness to know that one of the most prominent military charities in the UK is showing solidarity with interpreters. Those arriving from Afghanistan will face problems accessing support and Help for Heroes is there as a sign of hope and a warm welcome for them.”
A survey carried out among veterans supported by the charity showed 60% admit to feelings of anger, while 47% have experienced guilt and/or shame because of recent events in Afghanistan.
Waters added: “Some veterans feel highly responsible for those they worked alongside and are finding it incredibly challenging to feel they cannot do anything to help. Knowing the charity is assisting locally embedded friends and former colleagues will help some veterans to cope better with their own situations. We urge any veteran or family member in need of support to reach out to us.”
Many of the locally embedded civilians being welcomed into the UK are also dealing with a variety of physical health challenges, including the consequences of limb amputation, long-term conditions with pain and mobility issues, and welfare support needs. It’s only right that we stand with them now as they stood with us previously.