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Why Germany needs to simplify asylum for Afghan staff

Kersten Knipp | Shamil Shams
June 28, 2021

The German military's Afghan staff face many hurdles in their quest to relocate to Germany. While they face dangerous uncertainty, Berlin's unclear policy has come under heavy criticism.

Many NATO member countries have boosted efforts to provide asylum to their local staff in Afghanistan before SeptemberImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The German parliament last week discussed the future of the German military's local staff in Afghanistan amid an increasing threat to their lives from the Taliban.

After the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and dismantled the Taliban regime, foreign forces relied heavily on domestic help. They needed translators, interpreters, cooks and cleaners, as well security experts who could help them understand the political and security dynamics of the country.

The Taliban now view these people as "traitors" who helped foreigners consolidate their "illegal" occupation.

After almost two decades of war, President Joe Biden has announced that all US forces will leave Afghanistan by September 11. Other NATO allies, including Germany, agreed to leave the country following the US move.

The unconditional departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan leaves NATO's regional workers in a difficult position.

A complicated procedure

Afghans who have worked for the German army or other German organizations since 2013 are now eligible to relocate to Germany. This is an improvement on the previous regulation, which stipulated that only those who worked for German organizations in the past two years would be granted asylum. Germany's Interior Minister Horst Seehofer cited new security dynamics in the war-ravaged country as a reason behind this policy change.

However, the procedure for asylum remains complicated.

Those who worked for the German forces in Afghanistan are required to submit a "threat report," in which they explain what kinds of dangers they face due to their work as local staff with the German military, or Bundeswehr. However, the hazard report will only be vetted if the applicant had informed the German employer about the threat no later than two years after the contract expiration date. Local staff who worked for Bundeswehr subcontractors will not be considered for asylum.

It is also unclear where such people should submit their visa applications. In April, the German government promised to open offices in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul  but these still don't exist. In the present situation, they are required to apply for a visa in Pakistan, which is inconvenient and insecure. Those who wish to leave the country must also book their flights and bear the travel costs themselves.

Many NATO member countries have boosted efforts to provide asylum to their local staff in Afghanistan before September. But Afghans who have worked with the German military are facing difficulties in their quest for relocation to Germany.

Last month, the United Kingdom said it would accelerate relocation of its Afghan staff ahead of a planned withdrawal of US-led NATO forces. More than 1,300 Afghan workers and their families have already been brought to the UK under the relocation scheme for former and current Afghan staff. About 3,000 more could still be relocated under the plan, according to UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

Germany's responsibilty?

Winfried Nachtwei, a politician associated with Germany's Green Party and a former member of parliament, emphasized how local staff have played an essential role in the country's foreign missions.

"In Afghanistan, some of them got into a combat situation. They risked their lives. Now it is important for us to demonstrate that we care," Nachtwei told DW.

"If Germany does not do justice, it will hardly be able to count on supporters in other situations."

Marcus Grotian, a captain in the German armed forces, agrees with Nachtwei. "If we do not support the endangered local workers, we will undermine our own credibility," Grotian told DW, adding that there are compelling humanitarian reasons to help the local staff in Afghanistan.

"The employer's duty does not end with handing over the paycheck. Working for German institutions must not put someone's life in danger."

Grotian believes that Germany's decision to only accept those who have been threatened is "barely understandable." He also finds it incomprehensible that the federal government has decided to only consider applications of Afghans who were directly employed by the German forces.

"An Afghan ran a small grocery store at Camp Marmal for years. Although he had no regular employment contract, the locals considered him to be a camp employee."

Grotian pointed to the case of an Afghan contractor who built a church in Camp Marmal — a sinful act in the eyes of radical Afghans. "This man is now threatened. He, too, must be allowed to come to Germany."

Visa rejection

Some Afghan interpreters for the German military told DW that they are not being granted asylum in Germany.

"I worked with the German forces from 2009 to 2018 in different capacities," Jawid Sultani, 31, told DW. He said that his visa application has been rejected eight times by German authorities.

"Since my dismissal in 2018, I have met dozens of former Bundeswehr employees who have not been offered any kind of protection," he said.

Sultani said a group of former employees has set up a makeshift camp close to the Bundeswehr's base in Balkh to demand protection.

"The reasons for the rejection of my visa application were vague. No one knows who gets asylum and who doesn't," Sultani said.

"We are scared. Everyone [in Afghanistan] knows about our role with the foreign troops. We can be easily targeted after September 11," he added.

The Taliban said earlier this month that Afghans who assisted foreign forces in the country over the last 20 years would "not be in any danger" as long as they show "remorse." But the Taliban statement also offered veiled threats between words of reassurance.

The militants warned that local hires should "not desert" the country, and "must not engage in such activities in the future."

"If they are using the danger as an excuse to bolster their fake asylum case, then that is their own problem," the statement read in part.

This article was translated from German.

Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp Political editor with a focus on the Middle East
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