Which countries are afraid of Afghanistan?

Fear of revenge from the Taliban : How the withdrawal of troops is putting Afghan aid workers at risk

Berlin - How needy Afghanistan is can be explained with just a few numbers. The international community intends to support the country with twelve billion US dollars over the next four years. Afghanistan, the location of robust international military and development missions for around 19 years, has around eleven million people who live on food aid. Soon a small but explosive group of people in need of help, who even have to fear for their lives, could be added: the former Afghan local staff from the ministries and German organizations. This is what human rights activists and the opposition in the Bundestag report.

"The withdrawal of NATO troops, which is currently being discussed and in some cases already implemented, has a destabilizing effect," says Luise Amtsberg, spokeswoman for refugee policy for the Greens in the Bundestag. She sees the local staff, including those who work in development cooperation, "increasingly in the sights of the Taliban and IS". The local staff work for the ministries, the Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) or the Reconstruction Loan Corporation (KfW) as interpreters, drivers or security guards for the camps.

They created a connection between soldiers and development workers and the Afghan population, thus securing the German mission. There have been thousands over the years. "We have a duty of care for people who have worked for the Bundeswehr and NATO," says Günter Burkhardt, managing director of Pro Asyl.

The return of the Taliban to power is particularly delicate for local workers

Now it is time to process the years of service. 12,000 soldiers from almost 40 countries are still in the country, including around 4,500 US soldiers. President Donald Trump wants to reduce their number to 2,500 by mid-January. The Bundeswehr, too, has long been making arrangements for a possible withdrawal of its 1,200 soldiers within a few months. At the end of April there was one date in the room for this: For this date, the USA had promised the Taliban a withdrawal of all international troops if the country in the Hindu Kush no longer posed a threat of terrorism.

But critics worry that with the Taliban in power, the dangers for the aid workers will increase. “These people chose us and risked their lives for many years, they are seen by the Taliban as traitors. We have a responsibility for the local staff ”, says Marcus Grotian, captain of the German armed forces and chairman of the“ sponsorship network Afghan local staff ”. With the association and dozens of volunteers, he has supported hundreds of former local employees in Germany, helping them with their integration. “The local workers affected would have to be brought out of the country. There is a threat of revenge from the Taliban, ”warns Burkhardt.

Almost 540 Afghan local staff are still working for the federal government, as the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) announced on request. 489 of them work for the Ministry of Defense, others for the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry of the Interior. There are also around 1,300 local helpers from GIZ, KfW and political foundations. If Grotian has its way, the Bundeswehr and German departments in general should give their local staff and immediate family members the opportunity to travel to Germany if they can withstand a security check.

Last year the Green parliamentary group introduced a motion to the Bundestag. According to this, a group procedure should be introduced for local staff who work or have worked for German institutions. The family members of the local staff who are entitled to a visa should also be issued with a visa for entry. "The fact that the number of acceptance grants is consistently low despite the significantly poorer security situation shows that the system is in need of reform," says Amtsberg.

Some of the helpers leave the country on their own

The federal government decided in autumn 2013 to take on some of the local staff in Germany. If there is an “individual threatening situation”, admission can be granted in accordance with Section 22 of the Residence Act. The local worker is allowed to enter the country with their nuclear family. However, the application must be approved for this. A notification of danger will only be forwarded to the Ministry of the Interior and the Foreign Office if the person in charge of the department has passed a positive judgment. Security authorities are also examining the case.

"In view of the dangers and threats with which local workers are confronted, the previous procedure is far too bureaucratic, time-consuming and intransparent," says Green Party MP Amtsberg. As a consequence, many aid workers are fleeing Afghanistan on their own.

According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, a total of 2040 people had filed threat notifications by November 9th since the start of the local staff procedure. In 1169 workers, around 57 percent, no endangerment was found and consequently no acceptance of admission was given. In 2019 and in the current year, 21 acceptance grants were issued. However, the BMI does not provide any information about the total number of advertisements in these two years, and thus also not about advertisements submitted several times by a local employee - such statistics are not kept, they say. Bundeswehr officer Grotian suspects a high number of hazard reports in recent years. “Statements from local staff suggest that there are significantly more people willing to leave the country,” he says.

The Greens are calling for easier entry for local workers

The Federal Ministry of the Interior emphasizes that the continuation of the local staff procedure is ensured even with a possible complete withdrawal of all departments involved in the state. Notices of danger are possible “up to two years after the termination of their employment”, and a decision on this is made from Germany. The option of entry via this route is therefore still given.

The Greens are calling for the entry of threatened local workers to be made easier. Because: When it comes to a visa for the Federal Republic of Germany, a consular department is required. Due to the closure of the German embassy in Kabul as a result of the bomb attack in May 2017, the offices for accepting and processing visa applications are no longer in Afghanistan, according to the BMI. The embassies in New Delhi, India and Islamabad in Pakistan are responsible for the visa, but Afghans can hardly be reached.

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