Hey guys, Andy here. My recently completed portrait project, completed with Sara de Jong a senior lecturer at the University of York, is due to be launched later this month on Sunday 26th June with a talk at Refugee Week. I’ve previously spoken about the personal reasons for undertaking the project, entitled We Are Here; I think it is important to also consider how the project sits in a wider and historical context.

The project began as a response to the Fall of Kabul in 2022 to the Taliban. With Afghanistan impacting over 50% of my service in the British Army the country casts an inescapable ingredient as to who I am today. The ongoing situation and the slow, but inevitable, control of society by the Taliban also had a direct influence over the final products shown. It was necessary to anonymise the identities of the Afghan interpreters involved in We Are Here due to their association with those left behind and their risk of death; thus leading to the composite final portraits.

In the current UK news cycle Afghanistan is yesterdays war, replaced with headlines about Ukraine; it is more immediate and it is geographically closer to the West. However it is worth noting that events in Ukraine are only the latest when it comes to conflict; the last decade has seen violence in North Africa and the Middle East with countries involved with the Arab Spring and even events in Ukraine can be seen to have started with the Russian intervention in Crimea in 2014. Thus issues such as violence, displacement and the need to resettle remain all too relevant.

For all the attention grabbing rhetoric in regards to refugees, migrants and asylum seekers it is worth noting that, according to the United Nations Population Fund as at 2015 only 3.3% of the world’s population lived outside their countries of origin. The majority of these people moved in search of better economic and social opportunities with the rest forced to flee due to crises (as reported by the International Labour Organisation 73% of the working age migrant population were migrant workers). While, I fear, this 2015 figure may have risen, this figure clearly demonstrates that most people do not want to leave and would prefer to stay in their country of origin.

There is a certain irony that events in Ukraine have brought NATO closer together when individual countries trod their own path last year as they raced out of Afghanistan. And there is an inescapable racial element to the warm response by Western governments to fleeing Ukrainians compared to those, such as the Afghans, escaping other conflicts.

The UK has done its best at pulling up the drawbridge to the world and making a bonfire with the wood from which the bridge was built, all the while trying to present an image of remaining an influential actor on the global stage; both can not be true. The country is diminished under the current government; only those at odds with the truth would offer a flicker of denial and counter argument.

Having met, interviewed and photographed over a dozen Afghan interpreters as part of We Are Here, the UK response to the resettlement of the Afghan interpreters is, at best, a post code lottery. What is clear is that those who have benefitted the most are those who have not been helped by any official response but those who have found generous and helpful individuals. Such actions should not be about politics nor sound bites; at the most basic level it should be about people helping people, we can not get through the current situation alone.

We Are Here will be taking part in Refugee Week on Sunday 26th at 1.30pm with a talk and debate at the Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall. Book your free tickets here.