Safe in Germany, Afghan translators fear for colleagues left behind

As NATO wraps up its mission in Afghanistan after two decades, it leaves behind tens of thousands of Afghans employees

Reuters June 10, 2021
An Afghan man wraps himself with his national flag. PHOTO: AFP

Ali, a former translator for the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan, still lives in fear of the Taliban, seven years after coming to Germany under protection scheme for military's civilian employees.

The 29-year-old, who would not give his full name for fear of militant reprisals, is even more concerned about the fate of his former colleagues still at home.

"In Afghanistan, it doesn't matter what you do, if you are with NATO soldiers, then you are in danger," Ali told Reuters in Berlin.

As NATO wraps up its mission in Afghanistan after two decades, it leaves behind tens of thousands of Afghans who worked as civilian employees for foreign militaries and who now fear the wrath of Islamist militants.

Germany still has its protection scheme for its Afghan staff, and its defence minister pledged in April "not to leave these people unprotected".

However, Marcus Grotian, a former Bundeswehr officer who founded a support network for its Afghan employees, says Berlin was acting too slowly to get civilians who worked for the Bundeswehr out to Germany and that many who needed help were being left behind.

"It is good and right that we get a 27-ton memorial stone from Mazar-i-Sharif to Germany in twelve hours," Grotian said, referring to the Afghan rock that commemorates fallen soldiers and now stands near Potsdam.

"Now with the local staff, we have to be just as fast ... they must be brought to safety."

Since 2013, Germany has admitted nearly 800 Afghans who had working its military, along with 2,500 family members. Berlin expects another 500 are eligible for relocation to Germany.

Grotian points out that only Afghan staff who have worked for German forces within the past two years qualify for resettlement. He estimates that there are around 2000 former employees of the Bundeswehr who are excluded from the scheme but whose lives are at risk.

This contrasts with the Bundeswehr's nearly 20-year presence in Afghanistan, during which Germany had up to 5,400 troops stationed there at one time. Currently the number is kept at 1,300 as per a parliamentary mandate.

On Monday, the Taliban assured Afghans who worked with foreign troops of their safety, telling them not to flee the country as Western embassies process thousands of visa applications.

Few felt reassured, however. Fighting and killings have increased across Afghanistan since the United States and more than 20 allied countries announced the drawdown, ending a two-decade presence since the Taliban were forced from power in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

Ali believes some of his former colleagues were abducted by the Taliban, and said at least one had been killed.


Berlin is sticking to its criteria that to qualify for relocation to Germany local Afghan staff must prove they are under threat. They must also pay for their resettlement to Germany themselves.

The German government also defends that its scheme excludes anyone who worked for the Bundeswehr more than two years ago.

"This procedure stipulates that between the individual danger of a local worker, which must be recognisable for our decision, there must also be a temporal connection to the employment," said Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter.

Grotian urged Berlin to forgo the rule of the two-year limit, arguing that countries such as Italy, the Netherlands and the United States do not have any such cut-off.

Ali reports that friends and relatives at home do not feel safe.

"The insecurity in Afghanistan is growing," he said. "They already fear the Taliban will gain the upper hand again."


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