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Local Afghan staff (Photo: Maurizio Gambarini /dpa)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Afghan uncertainty

Carla Bleiker /ai
February 11, 2013

Afghans who work for German troops live in constant danger of being attacked by the Taliban. What will happen to them once German and NATO troops withdraw from the country in 2014?


They are translators, security guards or simple laborers. They are Afghans, but they work for the German military. Some 1300 local staff are currently working for the German soldiers according to a Defense Ministry spokesman. How things will continue beyond 2014 is not clear. Human rights organization Pro Asyl is now calling for a program to help the local staff move to Germany for fear they will be attacked by the Taliban once the protection of the Bundeswehr, the German army, is withdrawn.

"The Defense Ministry, which is the political leadership of the German military, has not wasted a single thought on what is to become of the translators once the soldiers leave Afghanistan," Günter Burckhardt of Pro Asyl told DW. "If the Bundeswehr employs people they cannot just draw up plans how to get the tanks out of Afghanistan while leaving the people who are in danger behind. First, you have to evacuate the people, then the military equipment."

First applications already in

The issue is already on the table - even though it's still two more years until NATO forces will actually leave Afghanistan. The first three applications for relocation to Germany have already been handed in.

German soldiers with local Afghans (Photo: Maurizio Gambarini dpa)
German troops often depend on local helpImage: picture alliance/dpa

Burckhardt objects to the way the local staff is being treated even though they risk massive dangers when working for the German troops. As an employer it's just not acceptable to not care about them when they're faced with an uncertain and dangerous future, he said. "This is neither morally acceptable, nor in terms of employment law," Burckhardt told DW. "We expect and demand that the Bundeswehr will care for and protect the people it hires. They have a duty in that respect."

The Bundeswehr also violates its responsibilities as it doesn't even tell local staff about the option of coming to Germany, Burckhardt said. The German government has dismissed such claims, insisting that local staff are well looked after and informed. According to Berlin, German employers in Afghanistan do consult their staff and listen to their concerns. And if it were impossible to guarantee adequate protection, individuals could move to Germany.

From case to case

But the government does not plan a coherent regulation making it easier for the Afghans to come. Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told ARD public television back in May 2012 that he wanted the local staff to stay in Afghanistan. "They form the basis for a good economic development of the country. Should they be personally in danger, we will of course bring them together with their families to Germany."

Government sources told Berlin that each and every case of an Afghan feeling in danger would be individually investigated and considered. Bringing the person to Germany would only be a measure of last resort. Before that happened, they would consider relocating the person in question within Afghanistan. A standard process by which all the applicants could receive a visa the same way is not being planned, as Berlin believes the situation in Afghanistan cannot be properly assessed in Germany.

The men, who in most cases have worked for years with the German military, are bilingual and have job training. They can play a crucial role in the transition to a democratic society. Berlin claims that Afghanistan will need exactly these people to prevent a brain drain in the coming years.

Families already at risk

"Better a brain drain than people getting killed," said Omid Nouripour, spokesman for the Green party in Berlin's parliament. The local staff helped the Bundeswehr to do its job and now it is Germany's turn to help them, Nouripour said.

Omid Nouripour
Omid Nouripour warns many of the local staff are already in dangerImage: Omid Nouripour MdB - Bündnis 90/Die Grünen

Already now, they have to fear for their safety and that of their families. "I know about a case where the child of a translator was abducted. And it was explicitly because the father had worked with the Germans," he said. "Thank God the kid is free again, but you can see from that how dramatically dangerous the situation is for those who work with the Germans."

Nouripour has a clear concept for what to do with the local staff past 2014 - he wants both a general visa procedure as well as an individual approach. "Individual cases can be checked in a way that you don't constantly have bureaucratic hurdles blocking the process. And a general acceptance program has to be the basis for that."

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