As foreign forces depart Afghanistan, local staff at embassies ask: ‘What about us?’

More than a dozen Afghans who worked for European Union member states' embassies told 'The National' they feel abandoned

(FILES) In this file photo an Afghan policeman keeps watch at a check post near the US embassy in Kabul on June, 26, 2013.  The United States on April 27, 2021 ordered non-essential staff to leave its Kabul embassy, citing increased threats as Washington prepares to end its 20-year war. The State Department in a travel advisory said it had "ordered the departure from US embassy Kabul of US government employees whose functions can be performed elsewhere."
 / AFP / SHAH MARAI

Afghan staff working for European embassies in the Afghan capital voiced their anguish of being abandoned and left to become, along with their families, easy targets in possible reprisal acts by resurgent Taliban militants.

“The situation is getting worse,” an Afghan employee working for a European member state embassy in Kabul said, adding: “we’re running out of time. Our lives and those of our families are at grave risk due to our affiliation with Nato members. We are defenceless.”

More than a dozen Afghans who worked for European Union member state embassies expressed their concerns that their employers will turn their backs on them as they did to their country and many fear retaliatory attacks due to their affiliation with foreign entities.

While The National verified the identity of each person interviewed, all Afghan employees in foreign embassies asked to remain anonymous, fearing retribution from the Taliban and consequences in their workplace.

A number of foreign embassies in Kabul have recently reduced their international staff, urging their citizens to leave Afghanistan if possible, as tensions are growing before the May 1 deadline of US and allied troops withdrawal.

Many local staff members have shifted to working from home, afraid to even leave their own houses as targeted killings have been on the rise.

The UK’s foreign office said it now advised against “all travel to the remaining parts of the country,” while previously advising against all but essential travel.

The US Embassy in Kabul ordered their non-essential staff to leave Afghanistan.

Afghan nationals working with the US Embassy are eligible to apply for a special immigrant visa after two years of service, the UK recently launched a similar initiative; the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy.

“We’re committed to ensuring that there is a fair system for the relocation of Afghan interpreters and staff who have worked with us. Any current or former locally engaged or country-based staff members assessed to be at serious risk of threat to life due to their employment with us, now or in the future, or who have been exposed to public recognition, will be offered relocation to the UK regardless of their rank or role or length of time served,” the spokesperson in the British Embassy in Kabul said.

The EU has a strong presence as well; with their employees equally in danger.

According to the Passport Index, the Afghan passport currently ranks the world’s lowest, meaning Afghanis require visas for most countries they want to visit even if the security situation in the country escalates.

The UN said that civilian casualties throughout the country have gone up by 29 per cent in the first three months of the year, compared to the same period last year.

The Global Peace Index ranks Afghanistan the world’s most dangerous country.

The European Union has not commented on how they will assist and support their Afghan employees in the coming months.

"The protection of our staff in Kabul is our first priority and we always work to guarantee that they can fulfil their tasks in the most secure possible environment. All possible security measures are being taken to continue providing security to all the European Union staff working in Kabul now and after the 1st of May," an EU spokesman in Brussels told The National.

The Dutch Embassy in Kabul has acknowledged the difficult situation.

“We are familiar with the concerns and take them most seriously. The Ministry is researching at the moment what we can do for the Afghan nationals working for the Dutch Embassy and how the safety of those colleagues is best served,” spokesperson Maxime Hovenkamp said in an email.

The annual threat assessment of the US intelligence community, published earlier this month, warned that the Taliban is confident it can achieve a military victory, reporting that they are likely to make gains on the battlefield, and the Afghan government will struggle to hold the them at bay if the coalition withdraw support.

epa09167100 Afghan security officials inspect the scene of a bomb blast that targeted a vehicle of the electricity supply department in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 29 April 2021. At least four workers of the electricity supply department and two civilians were injured in the incident.  EPA/GHULAMULLAH HABIBI

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid warned that “problems will certainly be compounded” in response to the US announcing their troop withdrawal date to be September 11; months after the initially pledged May 1 deadline.

Abdul Ghafoor, founder and director of the Afghanistan Migrants Advise and Support Organisation said that foreign embassies should not hand their Afghan staff “over to insurgents and the Taliban”.

“Afghans have put their lives in danger to help the international community in Afghanistan to make sure their time goes as smooth as possible. Now that they are withdrawing, it is those embassies’ responsibility to help the Afghans who put their lives in danger,” he said, adding that dozens of activists and even embassy employees were on the Taliban’s “target list”.

Afghanistan’s future is the number one discussion topic in the Afghan capital as grave concern looms that history could repeat itself – meaning the country could potentially see a civil war or a stronger Taliban trying to once again take over.

Another woman, working with a European embassy in Kabul, said she was worried about the welfare of her children as her workplace didn’t pledge any realistic measures to keep her and her family safe.

“I can’t even visit my village outside Kabul any more and I don’t even share where I work with my relatives; only my husband knows,” she said.

“We helped them when they needed us, so it’s their moral obligation to help us now. Once the International forces leave, I’m not confident that the Afghan forces will be able to keep Kabul secure,” she added.

With May 1 just days away, Afghanistan political expert Torek Farhadi said that Europeans should, at a minimum, actively look if they can give their staff members and families jobs and university scholarships for higher education studies in the EU. This, he said, will help remove them from a potentially dangerous theatre.

“Europe should distinguish itself by talking a long view on Afghanistan’s prospects. After an initial period of uncertainty and violence, the country will eventually stabilise and an investment in Afghans who worked for them and supported universal human rights is a noble move; certainly a good value for future mutual interests,” Mr Farhadi said.