German soldiers raise funds to protect Afghan staff

Fears that Berlin is failing to help civilian employees after Nato withdrawal

German soldiers salute a flag at a military air base as the country completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan last month. AFP
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German soldiers are raising money for Afghans who helped Nato forces amid concerns that the German government is failing to protect them.

Berlin flew its last remaining troops home from Afghanistan last month as part of the US-led withdrawal from the country.

With the Taliban making rapid advances, interpreters and messengers who assisted Nato forces in Afghanistan now fear for their safety.

The German military says that nearly 800 Afghan associates have received visas for Germany.

But there are concerns that some Afghans are missing out on support because they were contracted by other organisations, rather than being employed directly by the German army.

Britain faces similar pressure to look after Afghan interpreters who helped its troops during the 20-year deployment.

Marcus Gratian, a German soldier who served in Afghanistan, said there were thousands of civilian employees who had not yet received German visas or who were unable to apply.

He founded a support network for Afghans who he said had put their lives on the line by helping Nato forces.

Volker Wieker, a German general and a former chief of staff of the Bundeswehr, is a patron of the support group.

It has raised thousands of euros for Afghan staff in order to help them settle in Germany.

“We believe that our responsibility to our helpers in Afghanistan did not end with our military operations,” Mr Grotian said. “We want to help the local staff who risked their lives for us to build a new life here.”

Katja Keul, a spokeswoman on arms issues for the opposition Greens, saluted the fund-raising efforts. “Because the government is failing so miserably, volunteers have to put it right,” she said.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer last month scrapped a rule requiring visa applicants to have worked for German forces in the last two years.

But there is still a distinction between those who worked directly for Germany and those who were employed by other civilian agencies.

The German government says local staff who felt under threat should turn to their employers in the first instance.

A group of Afghan employees who carried out media work with the German army said Berlin should not distinguish between different types of local staff.

“All Afghan local employees are equally at risk of being targeted,” they said.

“It would be naive to make a group of people eligible for protection for the sake of their type of contract and leave many others behind.”

Asked about the fund-raising efforts, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said they were evidence of the camaraderie that had developed between German soldiers and their Afghan colleagues.

“It doesn’t mean that the German state is not recognising or acting on its responsibilities,” he said. “The fact that local staff are arriving in Germany shows that help is being given in a very practical way.”

We will help those who helped us
Steffen Seibert

When asked whether Berlin was offering financial support, Mr Seibert did not give details but said that Germany would help those who were under threat.

He said not all Afghans who were eligible for a visa wanted to move to Germany immediately.

“We will help those who helped us, and are already doing so,” he said. “We know the responsibility that we have to these people.”

David Hembold, a spokesman for the German Defence Ministry, said Berlin had offered help with visa applications and ferried some of the necessary documents on flights back to Germany.

“We will continue to offer support where we can, even when we are not on the ground any more,” he said.

Updated: July 13, 2021, 11:47 AM