Berlin urged to speed up resettlement of Afghans who worked for military

Government urged to act amid fears that lives of people who have worked with armed forces are at risk

The German government is under pressure to accelerate the process by which hundreds of Afghans who worked for the military are able to resettle in Germany amid fears for their lives if they stay in their home country.

High-ranking representatives from the military, politics, development aid and the diplomatic corps have joined an appeal to the German government stressing the urgency of acting ahead of the withdrawal of international troops next month.

“While the troops have long been preparing for their return, under increased security measures, the fears of the Afghans hired locally are growing,” states the letter, which was organised by four people including the director of the Berlin-based independent thinktank Afghanistan Analysts Network, Thomas Ruttig, and has the backing of prominent Afghans.

An estimated 520 Afghans who are currently working or who have worked closely with the German military, the Bundeswehr, in Afghanistan over the past two years, as well as close family members, are potentially eligible for resettlement, if they can prove in their applications that they have been threatened by the Taliban because of their association. They have typically worked as interpreters, drivers, security staff and administrators.

But campaigners argue the eligibility time-frame has to go further back than just the past two years and that applicants should not have to offer their own individual proof that they have been threatened, as the government is currently demanding.

Germany has been involved in military operations in Afghanistan since 2001 and has just over 1,000 troops stationed there.

Government sources cited by German media, have said that all 520 have submitted “endangered notices” to government authorities in Afghanistan and it has set up contact centres in both Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, where Afghans who have worked with Germans can submit a visa application. The location of the centres has not been made public for security reasons, which supporters of the applicants say, serves to stress the potential danger in which the Afghans find themselves.

Signatories to the letter include two former German ambassadors to Afghanistan, the former inspector general of the Bundeswehr, leading aid workers and Marcus Grotian, a captain in the German military who served in Afghanistan and is chair of the Patronage network of the Afghani Local Workforce. He told German TV channel ARD: “This is not about whether someone is being shortchanged, but about whether he faces death.”

The group has also criticised the government’s insistence that those affected should arrange and pay for their own travel and recommended instead that the Afghans are flown out of the country on specially arranged flights under military protection ahead of its withdrawal.

A German relocation policy has been in place to relocate Afghan workers since 2013, after it was decided that the Bundeswehr would withdraw from Kundus in the north of the country. The government brought about 800 local workers to safety in Germany, but faced criticism that it had failed to help many hundreds of others.

The German government has also been keen to stress the importance of Afghans staying in their homeland wherever possible, to help with its development, for which it is providing grants for employment training and education.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, last week stressed the government’s commitment to supporting the military’s former local workers. A spokesperson said: “The government takes the concerns of Afghan local hire very seriously,” and said applications were being processed as “speedily and flexibly” as possible. In the case of an individual proved to be in danger, “it will be made possible for the local workers and their core families to be given a quick admittance to Germany”.

The Taliban have widely branded Afghans who have been in the pay of foreign military “traitors” and “unbelievers”, or as “slaves of the invaders” or “collaborators” of the west. Many of those who have stayed in the country have complained of regular threats faced by them and their families and killings and torture of former employees have been well documented.

The Taliban on Monday issued a statement urging people who had worked with foreign forces to stay in Afghanistan following the departure of Nato troops. It said that those who had supported non-Afghan military over the past two decades would “not be in any danger” as long as they were “remorseful” and would “not engage in such activities in the future”. It urged those with skills to offer, to stay and “serve” their country.

The group added: “If they are using the danger as an excuse to bolster their fake asylum case, then that is their own problem.”

The German government is wary of giving too much publicity to the relocation scheme, not least because of political sensitivities surrounding its deportation programme of Afghans who have arrived in Germany as refugees but who face deportation after their asylum applications have been turned down, sometimes because they have been involved in criminal activity.

It is cautious about not wanting to undermine its own argument that it is now safe to return to Afghanistan. The latest group was due to be returned to Kabul on Tuesday amid fierce protests from human rights groups.


Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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