Migration: Afghan ex-locals: Prisoners in their own country

It was a single photo that was to get the troubled-eyed man into mighty trouble.

Migration: Afghan ex-locals: Prisoners in their own country

It was a single photo that was to get the troubled-eyed man into mighty trouble. It was March 2022, and the Taliban had been in power in Afghanistan for more than six months. "House searches were carried out this March," recalls the former translator, who does not want to make his name public out of concern for his safety. "That's why I hid my documents." Nevertheless, the Taliban found a photo that betrayed him as a former employee of foreign armed forces, as a so-called local employee. For three years he had worked with the Germans in northern Afghanistan.

He worked there as a translator until 2006, and he still speaks German to this day. At the time he was convinced that things would get better in his country. Today the family man has to live in constant fear of being arrested and has to change his place of residence again and again. He hardly sees his children anymore. The Taliban have put him in prison twice since the house was searched and beat him with weapons and metal bars, he says.

A January report by the human rights organization Rawadari shows the same: Since taking power in August 2021, the Taliban have arbitrarily arrested numerous people, including journalists, human rights activists and employees of the former government. Rawadari also reports that the detainees were beaten and ill-treated.

Could the problems have been avoided?

A situation that could have been avoided, at least for many former local staff, says Qais Nekzai from the Afghan local staff sponsorship network. Because the precarious situation in Afghanistan became apparent months before the Taliban took power in August 2021.

The Afghanistan expert Thomas Ruttig also says that Kabul's rapid fall was foreseeable. Because the common narrative that the Afghan army made the Taliban's rapid triumph possible through a lack of will to fight is wrong. "Often there was dogged resistance for a long time," says Ruttig. Rather, the advance of the militant Islamists had begun years earlier. From 2018, the situation for the West and its allies had gotten so bad that the US had stopped openly reporting how many areas were already in Taliban hands.

The Federal Foreign Office, on the other hand, emphasizes that the admission program for local staff has been in place since 2013, but that demand was significantly lower than today before the Taliban took power. According to the Federal Foreign Office, 4,100 ex-local workers have come to Germany so far, 2,600 since the traffic light government took office in Germany.

let down?

However, the current admission procedure does not apply to local staff who worked for the federal government before 2013. So is the former translator, who is now stuck because he and his family failed to escape in the chaotic days after the fall of Kabul. The man with the calm voice likes to think back to his German colleagues, whom he describes as "honest and reliable". However, he feels let down by the federal government. However, he does not want to give up the hope of being able to leave the country one day.

A former gardener who worked for the German armed forces for 13 months from 2006 also feels left behind. "Years ago, I received anonymous calls calling me a slave to infidels," says the man, who also wants to remain anonymous. Even acquaintances would now advise him to leave the country because he was receiving threats.

Although he had already received a job offer in Dubai, the man says he could not have moved there with his family. That's out of the question for him. "I won't leave my wife and children here," says the father of five. Instead, he had to go into hiding with relatives and could never stay in one place any longer. "Just imagine the life of a prisoner," the man describes his situation. "It's me."

After all, it makes no difference to the Taliban exactly when someone was employed for the Germans stationed in Afghanistan, says Qais Nekzai from the sponsorship network. All would be equally considered collaborators. "The people who risked their lives for the federal government for years don't deserve to be left behind," says Nekzai. The sponsorship network has already lost contact with many local workers. "We don't know if they're still alive."