Far right uses German election debate to stoke Afghan asylum fears

Alternative for Germany leader criticises the number of Kabul evacuees admitted

Germany’s far-right opposition has accused officials of widening the pool of Afghans flown out of Kabul after the Taliban takeover beyond those who worked as military interpreters.

Alice Weidel, the co-leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, used an election debate to raise fears that the airlift could become a “gateway for asylum abuse”.

About 3,700 Afghans were flown out of Kabul by the German military, including but not limited to people who helped Nato troops during their 20-year mission.

Although some have criticised Berlin for not moving faster to retrieve its personnel, Ms Weidel suggested too many people had been rescued.

“What we have established is that the definition of local personnel has been gradually loosened,” she said.

“We have a duty to bring back the local personnel who helped our army on the ground – but only them. It cannot become a gateway for asylum abuse.”

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has spoken of tens of thousands of Afghan staff and their families being left behind after the airlift.

Ms Weidel highlighted government figures from 2018 that referred to only 576 Afghan staff, although this referred to the number employed at that point.

“We have to help Afghan refugees on the ground and not fly them here. That’s not solving any problems,” she said.

The AfD won its first seats in parliament four years ago amid a backlash against Germany’s handling of the refugee crisis in 2015. Ministers have promised to avoid a repeat of such events.

Afghan refugee crisis dominates election discourse

The fallout from Afghanistan has pushed refugee issues to the top of the agenda weeks before Germany’s general election.

Germany began taking in Afghan staff before the fall of Kabul, but was criticised for an overly bureaucratic process that distinguished between direct army employees and others who worked for aid agencies.

Ms Weidel spoke at an undercard debate on Monday between four smaller parties who are not bidding for the chancellorship.

The three candidates for the top job – Armin Laschet, Olaf Scholz and Annalena Baerbock – held their second prime-time debate on Sunday. Mr Scholz’s Social Democrats lead in the polls.

Alexander Dobrindt, speaking for the sister party of Mr Laschet’s conservatives, defended the security checks on Afghans coming to Germany.

A handful of Afghans were flagged by the security services after arriving with fake documents or returning to Germany after previously being deported.

Mr Dobrindt said it had been right to carry out security checks in Germany rather than in the chaos of Kabul’s airport.

“I think everyone still has in their heads those depressing scenes that we saw at the airport in Kabul,” he said.

“It was decided that we should fly as many people out as possible out of this hell in Kabul … so these checks took place in other places, including in Germany.”

He said the suspects had been detained and would be deported as soon as possible.

Germany hopes to persuade the Taliban to allow safe passage for people who still want to flee Afghanistan.

The first departure of a foreign commercial flight from Kabul since the military airlift ended took place on Monday. It raised hopes for those trying to leave. Others have fled for Afghanistan's borders.

Updated: September 14th 2021, 12:43 PM
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