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Torn between worlds

Esther Felden / mykNovember 5, 2015

Amir worked as an interpreter for the German military until the Taliban threatened his life. But while the Afghan managed to leave his country, his family had to stay behind and face the dangers caused by his work.

Deutschland Übersetzer "Amir"
Image: DW/E. Felden

"I was born, raised and educated in times of war," says Amir (not his real name). The 25-year old lives in a small flat in the German city of Cologne, far away from his home town of Kunduz, and far away from the Afghan war. He came to the European country in 2014, enrolled in a school to learn German, and now wants to go to university and study computer science.

His future is in Germany, says Amir. Going back is not an option. Even if he had wanted to stay, life back in Afghanistan would simply be too dangerous for him. At the age of 19, he began working as an interpreter for the German army. He did the job for three years until the Taliban took issue with it.

He received threatening letters in which the Taliban swore to take revenge for his work as a "spy" for their enemy. "I was supposed to tell them everything I did for the Germans. Otherwise they would harm me," he said.

Amir was scared. Together with two colleagues he turned to the German army for help. "I wrote to them that I wanted to go to Germany." He waited for months until he and his colleagues were allowed to leave the country in October 2013. They were granted a residence permit for Germany for humanitarian reasons as stated under international law.

Afghanistan Kundus Sicherheitskräfte Kämpfer
It took several days for Afghan security forces to take back KunduzImage: Getty Images/AFP/W. Kohsar

But before he was able to move to Germany, one of his former colleagues was murdered. He, too, had been threatened by the Taliban. Amir is convinced the militants are behind the killing.

Application rejected

Amir and his other colleagues made it safely to Germany. Yet he struggles to find joy in his new life, as he now fears for his relatives. Although one of his brothers - also a former interpreter for the German army - moved with his family to Germany, the rest of the family - two sisters, three brothers and the father - still lives in Kunduz.

"When they were also threatened by the Taliban, I filed an application for them." On September 4th, the German Foreign office replied. "Unfortunately, it wasn't positive," said Amir.

His correspondence with German authorities already fills half a binder. On top of the files is a letter by the German authorities, stating that there is no sufficient information about his brothers being in danger, and that his request for family reunification would therefore be rejected.

Amir shook his head, struggling to make sense of the reply. "I am supposed to explain the situation yet again, even though it is obvious how bad the security situation is," he said in disbelief.

Fear - a constant companion

Just a few weeks later, the Taliban overran Kunduz, taking over the city for three days. "It was horrible for me. I could not get hold of my family for a day and a half as communications were down. I could not focus; I was constantly thinking about them, hoping they had left the city."

As it turns out, a brother and a sister - together with their respective families - managed to flee the fighting, and now live in Kabul. But this cannot be a permanent solution, Amir says. "Their whole existence is based in Kunduz. They cannot and do not want to stay in Kabul."

Moreover, the Afghan capital is frequently plagued by attacks, with civilians often among the casualties. Amir hence hopes that his family will be able to either return to their home town or to make it to Germany.

"All I want is for us to live here in peace and freedom. All of them are in danger because I worked for the German military." The fear for his father and siblings is a constant companion, he says. Every time he turns on the TV, he fears bad news coming from Afghanistan.

Safe areas in Afghanistan?

But a few days ago, German media had news which Amir found rather unsettling: German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière announced that Afghans whose asylum applications have been rejected by the authorities would be deported.

Much German development aid has gone to Afghanistan, a country which German soldiers and police are helping to secure, said de Maizière, adding that under such circumstances "one can expect Afghans to stay in their country."

Deutschland Innenminister Thomas de Maziere
Interior Minister de Maizière recently said Germany would send back Afghans whose asylum applications have been rejectedImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Afghanistan has to be thankful to Germany in many ways, says Amir. But he struggles to comprehend the minister's statement. "Everybody knows what happened in Kunduz, which was briefly under complete control of the Taliban," he said. Though de Maizière admitted the security level in Afghanistan is currently not as high as elsewhere, the minister still considers the country to have "quite secure areas."

Amir says it is wrong to make comparisons between Afghan and Syrian refugees. "One could not compare wars," he said, explaining that Afghanistan has been in a state of war for more than 35 years. The daily lives of the Afghan people have been marked by violence and terror. Many Afghans have never experienced a peaceful life in their home country, and neither has Amir.

Amir, who now has a three-year residence permit, hopes he will be able to stay in he country for longer and study. However, he is not convinced the security situation in Afghanistan will change anytime soon. So he vows to continue to fight for his family in the hope that they will join him one day.