Afghan interpreters are still waiting for France to evacuate them from Kabul

·7-min read

As France evacuates its citizens from Kabul, many Afghan translators who worked for the French embassy or army still do not know if they will be able to leave Afghanistan. The translators feel particularly threatened by the Taliban’s return, fearing they will be considered traitors for aiding foreign powers.

Evacuation flights out of Kabul resumed on August 17, 2021 after scenes of chaos played out at the airport throughout the day. People had swarmed the tarmac and clung to US military aircraft in desperate attempts to leave Afghanistan. A first French evacuation flight left Kabul on Tuesday evening. The next day, August 18, a second flight headed to the French military base in Abu Dhabi, carrying 216 people, 184 of whom were Afghans.

An association representing former Afghan interpreters for the French Army has compiled a list of 170 Afghans who had worked with French forces still stuck in Afghanistan. According to lawyer Magali Guadelupe Miranda, none of these 170 people was on the August 18 flight.

The French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly promised that Afghan auxiliaries who worked for the French Army and embassy in Afghanistan would also be evacuated, on August 16. “The French priority is to evacuate its nationals, to evacuate the [Afghan] personnel who have provided essential services to our country by helping us on a daily basis,” Parly said.

Many translators, drivers, cooks and other former employees of the French forces in Afghanistan are still waiting to find out if they can be evacuated or not. Around 800 Afghans employed by the French Army have been brought to France over the past few years, according to President Emmanuel Macron. At least 100 are still in Kabul. One of them told the FRANCE 24 Observers team about the uncertainty and anxiety he and his colleagues are experiencing as they wait.

‘We supported the French Army at a difficult time [...] Now, we’re asking them to help us’

Zacharia (not his real name) worked as an interpreter for the French Army for seven years, helping the military train the Afghan National Army until French forces withdrew in 2014. Our team was able to consult documents proving that he worked with the French armed forces.

Zacharia has tried to contact the embassy several times in order to obtain a visa and be evacuated to France, but without success.

The embassy has not responded to my messages or emails. I saw Emmanuel Macron’s post saying that 200 Afghans who worked with the French have been evacuated, but none of my colleagues in Kabul has received an email from the embassy.

Since the Taliban arrived three days ago, I have been hiding at home. I can’t go to the front door of the embassy because the Taliban are in the city. I was told to go directly to the airport, but how can I do that? The Taliban don’t let anyone in the airport unless they have documents authorising them to leave.

Around 600 members of the Afghan army have been deployed to secure the airport. The Taliban have also set up checkpoints in the city.

I don’t know what will happen to us in Afghanistan. I’m married, I have four children. I am worried for myself, but also for my family. Our work wasn’t hidden from people. They’ll tell the Taliban that I worked for the army – everyone knows it.

This morning, my friend that lives far from Kabul told me that the Taliban came into his neighbour’s house to search for someone. People who have worked with foreigners, police, army, intelligence officers… everyone is afraid. We have no guarantee that we will be protected.

I sent my documents to the embassy twice – in 2015 and 2016. My visa application was rejected, without cause. I even sent my documents last year to the Ministry of Armed Forces, but I didn’t get an answer. I have my contracts, my letters of recommendation, I am still in touch with my bosses, but nothing is working.

This is the last chance for us. If France does not protect us, tomorrow the Taliban will kill all the interpreters. I won’t leave my house. If the Taliban come, let me find me at home and kill me here. There is no chance for me, this is the last hope for my family. When the Taliban came, I applied for visas to Pakistan and India, but there is no way for Afghans to leave the country.

We supported the French Army at a difficult time. When they weren’t used to Afghanistan, we helped them with their mission. Now, we are asking them to help us, and we hope they take our requests seriously.

Other Afghan auxiliaries went to wait outside the embassy gates in hopes of being evacuated, as seen in this photo sent to us by a former translator.

‘Translators have been trying to leave since 2013’

The FRANCE 24 Observers team contacted Adel Abdul Raziq, president of the Association of Afghan Interpreters and Auxiliaries for the French Army. He worked as an interpreter for the French Army from 2001 until 2014, and has lived in France since 2016. He is working from Paris to ensure the evacuation of Zacharia and other former colleagues who want to leave Afghanistan.

Many of the former interpreters for the French Army are staying in their houses. They’re afraid of the Taliban because just a few weeks ago we lost one of our colleagues [Editor’s note: Abdul Basir, a former cook for the French forces]. He was killed by the Taliban, despite their promise of an amnesty for people who worked with the allied forces.

France announced on Monday that it will repatriate all its citizens and all the Afghan auxiliaries, but we haven’t had any news. So far none of my former colleagues has been contacted by the French embassy about evacuation plans.

I was an interpreter from 2001 to 2014, when the French left Afghanistan. I applied for a French visa at the time, but my initial demand was rejected. We held several demonstrations outside the French Embassy calling for a relocation plan. We eventually got visas. Interpreters have been trying to get out since 2013. There have been several waves of departures, but every two or three months there’s a halt.

In June 2021, Abdul Basir, 34, a former cook for the French forces, was found dead in central Wardak province. The French embassy in Kabul had rejected his requests for a visa three times, according to the Figaro newspaper.

>> Read more on The Observers: Denied visas, Afghans who translated for French Army fear for their lives

Attorney Magali Guadelupe Miranda is coordinating a team of lawyers assisting interpreters and other locally hired staff who worked for the French military in Afghanistan (locally employed staff, or “LES”, known in French as “PCRL”, personnels civils de recrutement local).

Along with the Association of Afghan Interpreters and Auxiliaries and journalist Quentin Müller, she has compiled a list of 170 Afghans who worked with the French forces and want to leave Afghanistan. She told the FRANCE 24 Observers team they benefit from special protections under French law.

This list includes all the people who worked for the French state in Afghanistan. These people have the right to protection the moment they come into danger because of their mission. As far as we know, none of the auxiliaries on our list have been evacuated.

These evacuations are being organised at the last minute, when they should have been happening all along. It was obvious the Taliban were going to retake the country. It was a foregone conclusion!

It’s now or never. We’re ready and waiting to do whatever is necessary to help the embassy and the Foreign Ministry. But we need clear instructions to transmit to the Afghan auxiliaries, and a guarantee they won’t be abandoned.

France had troops in Afghanistan from 2001 until 2014. President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech August 16, 2021 that more than 600 Afghan employees who had worked with the French forces had been settled in France in recent years.

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