NUJ photojournalist Guy Smallman frequently works in Afghanistan. His Afghan translator is in now serious danger, and Guy is appealing for help.
by Guy SMALLMAN
The photo above of myself with some children in an Afghan refugee camp was taken by my regular translator. Although a gifted interpreter, he had a passion for journalism and always took his camera when working with me in Kabul and the provinces. On election day last year he filed some pictures to the BBC Asia site and was thrilled to get them published and be paid for them.
Like many educated Afghans, his family had been lucky enough to escape the horror of the civil war and Taliban regime by moving to Pakistan. In 2001 they had returned, full of high hopes for building a new country from the remnants of 20 years of war and upheaval. How that dream has been shattered.
It is ironic that despite the severe risks attached to the work he did for me it was a desk job at a well-known NGO that caused my friend to uproot his life again and flee. After a number of threatening letters and text messages from the Taliban, he has left his family and is living a miserable hand-to-mouth existence on the border with a neighbouring country.
Exactly how the Taliban discovered where he worked or his home address remains unclear. For some time now they have declared that any Afghans working with foreigners are legitimate targets. He has taken the threats seriously, not least because his cousin was shot five times through the head in the lawless Farah province for working for the United Nations.
It is my belief that international organisations who employ local people in war zones should bear the responsibility for their welfare and, if necessary, provide them with the correct visas to settle elsewhere. Sadly this is not common practice.
So my friend faces an uncertain future while his family desperately try to raise enough cash for him to travel to a country where he can claim asylum.
At this end I am doing all I can to help. I have contacted an immigration lawyer and have organised a fundraising event in London on February 27th (details here). If you are in the city on that date, or know anyone who is, then please send them along.
I am also grateful to the NUJ London Freelance Branch for a donation received. All too often, Western journalists forget the debt they owe to local fixers in unstable countries.
For my own part, I am determined to ensure that my my friend reaches a place of safety where he can start a new life and contribute his numerous skills. As should be everyone’s right, not just those of us who are lucky enough to have been born on the other side of the razor wire.