Hey guys, Andy here. Refugees sadly continue to be a political issue in the UK and, on the 20th anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq, I would like to offer more context and reflection on my statement that ‘I am the son of a refugee’ and why it is with a sense of bleakness and shame that I regard both the UK government’s policy of refugees and our recent military legacy.

My mother and her family fled Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. Fate saw my mother marry an Englishman while the rest of her family settled in the USA. This family history was a key reason behind my recent We Are Here joint project with Dr Sara de Jong and wanting to help Afghan interpreters being resettled in the UK. My mother’s background was not a family secret but I never had any reference points to understand what it meant to be a refugee when I was growing up. It was only when visiting Afghan interpreters as part of We Are Here that I finally understood the trauma of having to flee your homeland, with only the clothes on your back, start afresh in a new country and culture and rely on the mercy of others.

Other reasons behind my involvement in the project included having been a military interpreter myself and also having worked with an Afghan interpreter. While today my Farsi/ Dari language skills have sadly faded I deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 as a military interpreter and found myself working in both Kabul and Herat with various NATO forces. Having been trained to be a decision maker and lead troops, being a mouthpiece and passing information between two parties, with no decision making powers was frustrating. I hope this experience meant that on my return to Afghanistan in 2008 I was considerate in my expectations and behaviour towards my own interpreter with whom I worked when mentoring Afghan Army soldiers.

Since the law was relaxed 15 years ago, at least 464 people have been stripped of their British citizenship, second globally behind Bahrain, with Shamim Begum being the most recent high profile example. I was born in Hong Kong, at the time a British colony, and I was there in 1997 to see it re-classified as a Chinese Special Administrative Region. With this in mind watching UK born nationals being stripped of their citizenship means I find it hard to believe my own UK citizenship is secure. Those who state that I have nothing to worry about as long as I do not commit a crime ignore the fact that citizenship should not be conditional. 

So on the 20th anniversary of the invasion I reflect on my own Iraq experiences. I found myself deploying to the country as part the first peacekeeping mission in the summer of 2003, two weeks after I completed my young officer training. My tasks included door knocking in Basrah at dawn, river patrols on the Shatt Al Arab, helicopter vehicle patrol checkpoints, securing the border with Iran, patrolling the Gas, Oil and Separation Plants (GOSPs) working out of Rumaylah.. the list goes on.

During my service I believed I was helping Iraqis and Afghans and while I may have assisted this person or that family for a brief a moment in time, given the state of the two countries today it is hard to justify the West’s, and by extension my, involvement. 

Thus it is with a sense of historical irony that I consider myself a child of empire who, through service in the British Army, became an instrument of foreign policy that caused people to flee their homelands just like my mother a generation ago while the country I served is now actively seeking ways to reject such people including myself.