Afghan citizens who helped the UK Armed Forces often face stress, trauma and hardship and need support for their physical and emotional needs as they rebuild their lives in the UK. The challenges faced by those who have resettled here were set out at the official launch of a new service, commissioned by NHS England, that aims to help.
The OpCourage Warm Welcome Afghan Service, a partnership across the national OpCourage Veterans’ Services, will provide specialist mental health assessment, support and advocacy for Afghan individuals living in all parts of England who worked to support the British Armed Forces while in Afghanistan. It also supports people to find help for wider needs, such as housing, financial and social needs through connections with local councils, government departments and third-sector organisations. The bespoke national central point of access for this service is hosted by Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust within the London Operation Courage Veterans’ Mental Health and Well-being service to enable ease of communication and access to Operation Courage services across England.
The launch event was attended by partner organisations and charities who are also working to help Afghan citizens who are settling in the UK, including those who helped the British Government and UK Armed Forces as interpreters and support staff.
C&I Assistant Psychologist, George Tyldsley, who served in Afghanistan as an Infantry Captain, spoke alongside one of the interpreters who he worked with during the conflict.
George said: “The interpreters and support staff did really important work alongside members of the armed forces, we needed their help and now we need to ensure that they are helped to integrate into society here. This is a very important service, it offers a single point of access and can help with a range of issues. When people arrive here they have multiple challenges, they may suffer from stress because of the trauma they have been through along with anxiety about the friends and family who are still there but they may also have legal issues around staying here or housing, training, and other problems that they need help to resolve. We can help, and signpost people to organisations where they can be supported.”
Abeda Sakha, from the Red Cross, said: “It seems on the surface that the people who come here are safe, but very often they are getting messages from friends and relatives with pictures showing how they have been injured or beaten, or photos of dead bodies and that is very distressing for people, they are so far away and unable to help. It is very difficult for them. They need this emotional mental health support.”
Dostyar Dost, from the charity Groundwork said: “We are looking forward to working with this service. It is needed by so many.”
Afghan singer Elaha Soroor spoke about her own experience growing up in Afghanistan and performed tracks from her album, “Songs of Our Mothers”, she said: “These songs were an act of rebellion by women against the Taliban, because they want to eliminate our culture and the music is a way to be a survivor, because people need their cultural heritage.”
Dr Julia Gillard, Clinical Psychologist with the OpCourage Warm Welcome Afghan Service said: “This event highlighted the importance of the service; people shared stories about experiences and about the work that they are doing. It was good to hear from so many people in different fields and get everyone in one room to give their thoughts and discuss how we can develop this service going forward.”
Dr Eileen Walsh, Lead, OpCourage Warm Welcome, said: “This service is available to those who worked with the British armed forces or the British Government as well as soldiers from the Afghan National Army, police, interpreters, cultural advisors, and political and counter-terrorism workers to name a few. Individuals must be living in England and can directly refer themselves or be referred by professionals or carers via our bespoke national central point of access.”
If you would like to learn more about this new service and how you can make a referral, please see the The Veterans Mental Health and Wellbeing Service - London and the South East — Warm Welcome Afghan Service website.