Media Engagement

2021

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, 8 June 2021

On June 1, the Sulha Alliance, which advocates for former Afghan employees with the British armed forces, said that all NATO members should adopt relocation policies to protect former interpreters and other Afghan employees.


It noted that NATO has been divided in its approach, with some members, such as Canada, offering no relocation plans. Australia and Germany have not expedited resettlement.

JASMINE ANDERSON FOR I-NEWS, 3 June 2021

In a tweet on Tuesday, the former major general wrote: “Absolutely delighted that my former Afghan interpreter from 2007 today received notice that he will be relocated to the UK.

LARISA BROWN FOR THE TIMES, 2 June 2021

The Sulha Alliance, a campaign group in the UK, and 16 other partner organisations from seven countries, have written a letter to the Nato secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, urging member states to provide immediate protection to Afghan employees and their families as troops withdraw.


In the letter, copied to Boris Johnson, they said that Nato countries should immediately evacuate the staff they had employed to ensure "that those who protected our lives will themselves be safe from reprisal".

talkRADIO Julia Hartley-Brewer's breakfast show, 1 June 2021

Dr Sara de Jong, political scientist at the University of York and co-founder of the Sulha Network: "Afghanistan is of course a very unsafe country for many people, but this is a group of people who is specifically targetted because of their employment history.

"There has always been a broad consensus among the British public, wherever you are on the political spectrum that [relocation Afghan interpreters] is the right thing to do.

ISABELLA KWAI FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES, 31 May 2021

Dr. de Jong said [that] the April policy excluded staff members who had been fired, a point of concern given that many staffer members had been let go for minor offenses, such as carrying personal electronic devices to update their families or not returning from leave for personal reasons. And the policy change came too late for Afghans who have already fled and now reside, sometimes without documentation, in other countries like India, Serbia and Turkey, she said.


Government sources on Monday confirmed a report in The Daily Mail that said that those who had been dismissed for minor offenses but were otherwise eligible for resettlement would be approved if there were no other reasons for concern — a development that advocates said could have a major impact.


The onus now was on the government, Dr. de Jong said, to reach out to Afghan workers who were previously ineligible and help ensure that they apply for relocation.

Der Tagesspiegel and Trouw, 1 June 2021

Example of coverage in the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel and Dutch newspaper Trouw of Sulha Alliance's joint international letter to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Heads of State and Governments in the US, Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, France and Italy.

"Without a coordinated effort to guarantee the protection of the Afghan local staff that supported its partner nations, NATO risks betraying its own promise that the “drawdown will be orderly, coordinated, and deliberate”.

ITV, 31 May 2021

The Sulha Alliance says some 35% of translators, amounting to 1,010, will not be offered the option to settle in the UK.


"We need the Government to actively reach out to those they have previously rejected on that basis, as recently as late April.

[Who have been fired] for having phoned their family to say that they are safe, which was considered a security breach because they were carrying a SIM card or a mobile phone."

JOSH LAYTON FOR THE METRO, 31 May 2021

Ed Aitken, a former British Army officer and the co-founder of the Sulha Alliance, which is supporting former interpreters, welcomed the pledge to speed up the application process.

Mr Aitken said: ‘The announcement is good news, although there are still gaps with those who are eligible for support, most notably interpreters who were terminated. ‘There is some concession for those who were terminated for the most minor offences but the bar is still set very low for exclusion from the scheme, particularly when you compare it to the bar for exclusion for those seeking asylum, which is set very high. The question that needs to be asked is, does the alleged offence really justify the death sentence that exclusion from the scheme would certainly result in?’

Agence France Press, 31 May 2021

On Monday, 16 organisations from across seven NATO nations campaigning for the rights of local Afghan workers and including the UK-based Sulha Alliance wrote an open letter calling for alliance members to "provide immediate protection to Afghan staff and their families who are facing threats".


The letter said translators "are afraid that they will be left behind not only due to inconsistent criteria, but also because the deteriorating security situation makes it impossible to travel to interviews and obtain documents in time".

AFP quoted in the South China Morning Post, 31 May 2021

Retired Colonel Simon Diggins, the former British attaché in Kabul and now a campaigner for the Sulha Alliance said he welcomed the acceleration of relocations saying it showed “goodwill and a positive attitude of officials and senior ministers”.

However, he was critical of a continued lack of clarity for translators who were dismissed from the British Army and may be denied relocation as a result. Diggins also questioned whether logistics would allow so many to be relocated in so little time.

“I am really not sure how they are going to make it work with all those numbers. I really hope they can. But the numbers are huge and do they really have the resources to deliver that?” he asked.

BBC World Service May 31, 2021 06:00AM-09:00AM BST

Listen to this BBC World Service interview with our Co-Founder, Retired Colonel Simon Diggins, who responds to the announcement about the acceleration of the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).


"The difficulty is that some people who they now may accept, have in the past been rejected. And they are in a slightly desperate place and wondering, 'what on earth do we do?', and so some of them have not come forward to apply to the new ARAP scheme. So we need the Government to go out and actually positively contact them."

PATRICK DALY FOR THE EVENING STANDARD, 31 May 2021

Veteran Army officer Ed Aitken, founder of the Sulha Alliance campaign group, said he was “pleased” about the scheme but warned that there was a “low” bar for rejecting those who previously risked their lives to support British troops.

“We are pleased with where we are but there are concerns there are some glaring gaps where there are going to be parts of this community who are left vulnerable and won’t be included under this policy,” Mr Aitken, who undertook two tours of Helmand Province, told BBC Radio 4’s Today.


BEN DOHERTY FOR THE GUARDIAN , 30 May 2021

Dr Sara de Jong of the University of York and a founding member of the Sulha Alliance, which campaigns for interpreters who worked with British forces, says the threat against locally engaged staff is not new “but the Taliban regards the peace accords as a confirmation they won the war”. “The confidence of the Taliban – and their ability to take revenge – has increased.”

De Jong says it is “logistically possible” for coalition countries to extract personnel at risk and their families. [...] “Where there’s a will there’s a way. This is an international mission that seeks to coordinate among partner nations, why is there no coordination on this?”

DAVID WILLIAMS and SAM GREENHILL FOR THE DAILY MAIL, 11 May 2021

Afghan veteran Major Ed Aitken, founder of the Sulha Alliance, which supports translators, said: 'After the trauma of the war where interpreters stood shoulder to shoulder with British troops... can you imagine the extra mental health damage the incompetence of this Government has inflicted on these men and their families, to whom we owe so much?

His colleague Sara De Jong added: 'With 5,000 Taliban prisoners released since last year and less than 150 days till the US withdraws from Afghanistan, families should be urgently reunited to protect wives and children against revenge.'

MAEDEH SHARIFI FOR CITY INTERNATION, 6 May 2021

“Unfortunately, we have already been notified about at least 25 cases in which local staff who applied to the scheme were immediately informed that their termination meant that they were excluded from ‘relocation by default’” Dr Sara de Jong, Co-Founder of advocacy initiative Sulha Alliance and Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of York, explains.

“First of all, our observation was that the number of disciplinary dismissals was very high; which British company would fire 1/3 of its workers for disciplinary reasons?” Dr de Jong tells City Internation. [...] Dr de Jong also points to the fact that “local staff had no right to appeal against being dismissed so their perspective on the situation remained unheard”.

“We think there needs to be a clearer commitment that even if an interpreter was terminated, if there is a threat to their safety they should be eligible for aspects of ARAP, including resettlement to the UK.” she says. According to Sulha Alliance, there are other challenges in the application process, such as the government not accepting the applications of those from third countries who had to flee.

The Times - Letter to the Editor - 4th of May 2021

"Thirty-five per cent of the interpreters taken on from 2001 to 2014 were dismissed. That is a staggeringly high proportion and suggests that dismissal was over-used as an HR management tool, rather than as punishment. [...]

[T]he Sulha Alliance has called for a full, transparent and urgent review of all those dismissed. Our investigations reveal little "due process", no right of appeal and nil consideration of previously good service. Some, even after review, may not deserve sanctuary in this country but the bar for excluding asylum seekers, on the grounds of their prior behaviour, is very high; most of those dismissed would easily get in if the asylum-seeker test were applied."

Colonel Simon Diggins (retired) Defence attaché, Kabul, 2008-10; The Sulha Alliance

JOSH LAYTON FOR METRO, 4 May 2021

The Sulha Alliance, which is supporting the man and other former interpreters, says that a third of the interpreters who assisted the UK, around 1,000 people, have been dismissed for minor disciplinary or administrative issues, such as smoking or arriving late, and as a result have not qualified for Government resettlement schemes.


Retired Colonel Simon Diggins, a former defence attaché to Kabul who is now a spokesperson for the alliance, said today that 35 per cent of the interpreters employed between 2001 and 2014 were dismissed. In a letter to The Times, Col Diggins writes: ‘That is a staggeringly high proportion and suggests that dismissal was over-used as a HR management tool, rather than as punishment.’

JOSH LAYTON FOR METRO, 28 April 2021

The Sulha Alliance said that former and current translators who have put their lives on the line to help British forces are already suffering daily assassination attempts due to their work.


The support network is calling for an emergency plan to resettle the locally-employed civilians in the UK amid fears the Taliban will mount bloody reprisals after the handover to the Afghan government.


Mr Aitken said: ‘The new Afghan Resettlement and Assistance Policy (ARAP) needs to ensure the previously seen twelve to eighteen month delays in processing applications for relocation to the UK are hugely reduced. We need an emergency plan to get these guys out at the same time as our troops.’

JACK HUNTER FOR BBC NEWS, 26 April 2021

But retired Colonel Simon Diggins, formerly the British attaché in Kabul and now a campaigner for Afghan interpreters, says many of those dismissals were for trivial reasons.

"Whilst some of those who were dismissed did things that were disgraceful, there were a very large number of people who were dismissed for very minor or administrative issues," he told the BBC. [...] "What we're asking for is that their cases are all reviewed."

LARISA BROWN FOR THE TIMES, 15 April 2021

Afghan interpreters face a “ghastly betrayal” if they are left behind when British forces withdraw this year, a former defence attaché to Kabul said.

Colonel Simon Diggins said the interpreters were “really scared” by the planned pullout by September 11 and urged ministers to let more of them into Britain.

DAVID WILLIAMS and MARK NICOL FOR THE DAILY MAIL, 15 April 2021

Retired colonel Simon Diggins, founding member of the Sulha Alliance, which helps translators, has written to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace calling for the [relocation] process to be accelerated.

Mr Diggins also raised the concern of hundreds of ex-translators dismissed for disciplinary reasons from their jobs, which would normally exclude them from sanctuary in the UK.

DAVID WILLIAMS and MARK NICOL FOR THE DAILY MAIL, 20 March 2021
Former captain Peter Gordon-Finlayson, an Afghan veteran and founding member of the Sulha Alliance, which campaigns for interpreters, said last night: 'We are delighted to welcome Nesar to the UK and thank the Home Office and MoD for intervening in his case – he will be a credit to society.'
DAVID WILLIAMS and LARISA BROWN FOR THE DAILY MAIL, 29 January 2021

Colonel Simon Diggins, former military attache at the British embassy in Kabul, who campaigns for translators, said the murder was part of a 'campaign to assassinate former interpreters'.

DAVID WILLIAMS and LARISA BROWN FOR THE DAILY MAIL, 16 January 2021

Peter Gordon-Finlayson, former Army captain and founding member of the Sulha Alliance, which campaigns for interpreters, said: 'The Sulha Alliance is delighted that the Government recognises Nesar's qualification for relocation to the UK. He is truly a worthy recipient of UK support.'

2020

"Hundreds of Afghans whose lives are at risk from the Taliban because they helped the UK will be allowed to come to Britain under a new Government scheme. [...]

The scheme is the latest twist in the controversy over the fate of locals who helped British forces and it represents another victory for this paper's Betrayal of the Brave campaign highlighting the issue.

The Government believes hundreds of Afghan staff and their families could be brought to the UK.

The scheme will offer relocation to current and ex-employees such as embassy support staff, those in political or counter-terrorism roles, or cultural advisers. It will also give hope to interpreters who have been unable to come to the UK under a separate relocation scheme where they had to be working in Helmand for 12 months and then made redundant or quit.

Interpreters in the public eye – pictured with politicians or on TV, for example – could now be allowed into Britain on the basis that their lives could be at risk. Those 'terminated' from their position with the British Army could also be allowed in if they can provide fresh evidence that their lives are in immediate danger.

Defence sources said they will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, with those terminated for less serious reasons more likely to be allowed into the UK."

LARISA BROWN and DAVID WILLIAMS FOR THE DAILY MAIL, 29 December 2020
Retired Colonel Simon Diggins, former military attache in Kabul, said: 'The situation has fundamentally changed and while everyone welcomes peace, there's a really big danger the Afghan interpreters will be the sacrifice. I'm delighted, but the devil will be in the detail.'
DAVID WILLIAMS and LARISA BROWN FOR THE DAILY MAIL, 14 December 2020
In a damning insight into the Intimidation Investigation Unit (IIU), a Briton who worked with it said translators applying for relocation faced 'unfair barriers' and alleged the 'focus was on putting the claimant under investigation'. [...] the whistleblower, [...] provided his evidence to the Sulha Alliance, a group of former Army officers and academics campaigning for the rights of Afghan translators.
Major Ed Aitken, who served in Helmand, said on the alliance's behalf: 'It is a deeply institutional injustice that is a reflection of those who make the policies back in London.'
DAVID WILLIAMS and LARISA BROWN FOR THE DAILY MAIL, 5 September 2020
Simon Diggins, a former British Army colonel who campaigns on behalf of Afghan translators, said: ‘After the positive, and long-overdue, news that seven of our former Afghan interpreters, resident in UK, would at last be united with their families, it is the cruellest disappointment to hear that five families cannot travel because there is no accommodation here for them; this feels like insult piled on injury."


Colonel Simon Diggins, a founder member of the Sulha Alliance, discussed the potential issues raised by President Trump's recent announcements on withdrawing US forces on British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS).
His overall conclusion is that, without backfilling of the withdrawing US forces, UK forces will inevitably have to become more focused on their own Force Protection and security and less on the operational mission, supporting the training and development of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). At some point, the whole mission may become untenable.
More broadly, a precipitate collapse of the NATO Mission will be extremely harmful to overall security, including the morale of ANSF. This will create an opportunity for the Taliban and IS to exploit, further endangering the security and lives of our former interpreters.
AARON WALAWALKAR FOR THE GUARDIAN, 19 September 2020
Retired colonel Simon Diggins, who has long campaigned for Afghan interpreters, told the Guardian how as many as 15 interpreters excluded from the scheme have attempted to seek refuge in the UK by travelling through Iran, Turkey and Europe.[...] “I’m very impressed by the way there appears to have been a change of spirit … there appears to be a door open.”But he added: “My personal view is we should accept liability for all those who are under threat because of their service with us. It is not a small number but what I am saying is it is manageable."
Former Army officer Ed Aitken, who had pressed former immigration minister Caroline Nokes to ensure the reunification happened, said: ‘Explaining to her why she needed to change the policy was the easy bit.‘It was the frustratingly slow bureaucracy of delivering that policy change which has caused such misery in the community to which we owe much better treatment.’
By Chris Hughes for the MIRROR, 18 August 2020
“These people are extremely special as they served alongside our troops with great courage and loyalty,” said Col Diggins, 61. “They are all educated, thoroughly decent and loyal and it fills me with utter despair to hear some have travelled all the way to Calais in a struggle to get here. [...] Britain owes a huge debt to these interpreters and allowing them to come here is the least we can do."
By LUCY FISHER for THE TIMES, 28th of July 2020
Colonel Simon Diggins, the former British defence attaché in Kabul, wrote to the MoD in May demanding urgent action, and followed up his letter with a reminder a month later, but has received no reply.He noted that the plight of some Afghans had not ended upon resettlement in the UK. Some have faced issues trying to bring their families to join them in Britain. Others encountered red tape that has blocked them from getting well-paid jobs, instead confining them to low-paid and insecure employment.

2019

Ed Aitken, who has served as a captain in the Army and now campaigns for the interpreters, said: ‘It is a sad state of affairs when our police and Armed Forces are so desperate to recruit from our BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] communities.‘Yet these men, who have expressed a desire to serve this country again, are prevented by an inflexible policy despite the service and sacrifice they have already given us.’
THE TIMES 15 June 2019
As Colonel Simon Diggins, a former defence attaché at the British embassy in Kabul, has said, the Afghan interpreters have nothing to prove in the way of loyalty or commitment to the cause. There are vacancies with Nato forces in Afghanistan. Qualified interpreters are living in Britain, working in private security and fast food restaurants, who are keen to take up the work. One man translated for Prince William in Camp Bastion in Helmand in 2010 but he is not thought to be a safe option for a job with Nato despite being able to furnish references from senior officers that attest to his complete loyalty.
By LUCY FISHER for THE TIMES 15 June 2019
The medium-high level of vetting known as "security clearance" requires a minimum of ten years' UK residency and five years' British nationality, according to Ministry of Defence correspondence seen by The Times. Colonel Simon Diggins, a former defence attaché at the British embassy in Kabul, said the government's intransigence was illogical and unreasonable, arguing that the interpreters had "already proven their loyalty under the most testing circumstances". The approach showed a "lack of compassionate understanding", he added.
Colonel Simon Diggins, a former attache at Britain's Kabul embassy, gave evidence on behalf of Sai. He said: 'Wounded in action, alongside British troops, in our common struggle against the Taliban, we should have been welcoming him with open arms not trying to throw him out.
'I call on the British government to grant sanctuary to all our former interpreters ... We must make good our debt of honour to these brave men and women.'
SIMON OSBORNE for the EXPRESS 8 April 2019
Colonel Simon Diggins, a former defence attaché at the British embassy in Kabul, described the situation as a 'tragedy in the making'.He said last year there was credible evidence of interpreters being murdered or chased out of their homes. Col Diggins said: “Despite the Government's promise of a relaxing of the criteria for our interpreters coming to this country, to date, as far as we can tell, not a single additional interpreter has been helped."
ALJAZEERA 12 February 2019
Simon Diggins, a former British colonel, has condemned the UK policy. “I think we treat them very badly. Interpreters gave their lives for us, people have been injured, they’ve been killed and without them, we couldn’t have done our work in Afghanistan. For them, I believe, we have a genuine debt of honour to them,” said Diggins.

2018

WILLIAM WARREN for FORCES NET, 9 NOV 2018
Ed Aitken was one the blond soldiers Rashid was speaking about.The former army captain completed two tours of Afghanistan and served with The Royal Lancers. He remembers meeting his interpreter Hares very clearly and speaks passionately about the impact interpreters played in the conflict.“Hares very much became part of the family … interpreters became a lifeline; they became the guys we relied on. They would be able to intercept the insurgencies communication and so we would have that significant advantage to a commander of being able to understand what the enemy was saying.”
EWEN MACASKILL for THE GUARDIAN, 7 Sep 2018
Aitken suggested contacting the interpreters to set up a network.[...] “We became the focal point for the Afghan interpreters,” Aitken said. They called the organisation Sulha Network. Sulha (which means “reconciliation” in Dari) is now in contact with more than half of the 390 interpreters in the UK.
BBC 26 May 2018
The Ministry of Defence says Britain is the only nation that has a team in Kabul, investigating intimidation.But Col Simon Diggins said interpreters were being attacked in Afghanistan."We have credible evidence of individuals being murdered, others have been chased out of their homes," the former defence attaché to Kabul told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
SIMON DIGGINS for THE GUARDIAN 13 Feb 2018
"Whatever one thinks of the UK’s intervention in Afghanistan, we have a debt of honour and gratitude to our former interpreters and it is a scandal that we are not meeting it."

2017

MAY BULMAN 7 DEC 2017 for the INDEPENDENT
Peter Gordon Finlayson, who also knew Mr Husseinkhel while working as a captain on the front line in Helmand, said: “All of our interpreters were an integral part of our team. They came out on the ground on patrol with us. They shared the same dangers that we did. They were instrumental in helping us form a clearer understanding of the battle picture."
Colonel Simon Diggins, the former British defence attache in Kabul who also gave evidence to the committee, said the UK policy towards interpreters was ‘inadequate’.He said: ‘In my view it is in inadequate and it does not recognise the degree of danger that is there or the continuing threat in Kabul.’He said there was an instance in July 2010 when an interpreter had three limbs blown off while he was on patrol with UK troops.
MICHAEL SAVAGE for THE TIMES, 8 February 2017
Colonel Simon Diggins, the former British Defence Attaché in Kabul, criticised the "over-tight boundaries" of the current relocation schemes on offer. "It is inadequate. It does not recognise the level of threat that is there," he said."My sense is we are back to the idea of the First World War. The general staff resisted for a long time the ability of airmen to have parachutes. They said 'no, they won't commit themselves'. And it seems to me that's where we are with this interpreters' scheme."

The campaign for justice for our former interpreters has attracted widespread support from right across the political and media spectrum; the award winning Daily Mail's 'Betrayal of the Brave' campaign, in particular, has often foregrounded the issue in a way that politicians cannot ignore. We wish to acknowledge the determined and principled engagement of many journalists, but especially Larisa Brown and David Williams.