The collaborative project between Andy Barnham and Sara de Jong with the Sulha Alliance documents the experiences of Afghan interpreters who were resettled to the U.K. under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy (ARAP), launched in April 2021, through photo portraiture and interviews.
By centering Afghan interpreters’ own stories, viewers are invited to engage with the people behind the headlines and numbers and also encourages reflection on the deep entanglement between the U.K. and Afghanistan, which have shaped Afghan interpreters’ lives from childhood or early adulthood. Together their individual stories and images reflect the structural and lasting impact of Britain’s military employment practices, migration laws and foreign policy.
The portraits have been taken in hotels and houses and have been edited in a manner to help anonymise the newly arrived interpreters who have been at risk and who, potentially, have family in Afghanistan still under threat. The individual portraits presented are a composite of up to a dozen frames which have each been blurred or pixelated and then overlaid to present a final portrait. This process can also be seen as inflicting trauma on the portraits, in acknowledgement of the experiences when serving with the British Army, other NATO forces and when escaping Afghanistan.
The quotes are from in-depth interviews, conducted by Sara de Jong, which cover the Afghan interpreters’ motivations to work for the British Armed Forces, their working alongside soldiers, the threats they faced in Afghanistan, their evacuation, their early experiences in the U.K. and hopes for the future for themselves and their families.
We would like to thank the interpreters who have so generously offered us their time, hospitality, and stories.
We are grateful for the funding provided by the Department of Politics, University of York, to support this project.