Germany has assured visas to Afghans at risk. That’s what the coalition agreement says. While the federal admissions program is off to a slow start, one group of endangered people is facing entirely different problems.
Little noticed by the general public, the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Foreign Office have in recent months temporarily suspended the effect of admission commitments made by several dozen Afghan lawyers. Germany is thus abandoning people who are recognized as being at risk and who had been given a concrete prospect of a visa by the offices.
Among them are former prosecutors like Romal M.* (name changed), whose case has been under review since March 22. He had taken his profession seriously, campaigned for the rule of law in Afghanistan, investigated felons. On many occasions, he had successfully pleaded for life sentences in trials.
Among those convicted were some Taliban and Taliban-affiliated criminals who were released after coming to power. “They’re looking for me now to get back at me,” M. says, explaining:
They think that I am the one who did this to them. They do not understand the role of a prosecutor.
In July 2022, he said, a suicide attack was finally carried out on him, which he fortunately survived. He then fled to Iran, but was picked up there, beaten up and deported. Currently, M. is hiding with his wife and children with relatives. They would not even have money of their own for food. They spent all their savings on visas to the neighboring country of Pakistan; there the family hoped for a quick onward journey to Germany.
The news that Germany was temporarily suspending its promised admission hit the 35-year-old family man like a slap in the face. “I had traveled overnight to Pakistan when I discovered the email in the morning that I would not receive support there,” he recalls. A few days later, he was forced to return to Afghanistan. In complete uncertainty, the family now hoped day after day for news from Germany. “I would also like to emphasize that I am open to follow-up questions. I am happy to provide further documentation at any time. But I am unfortunately not told anything at all about the current procedure and how I could participate in it,” says M.
Tilly Sünkel from the organization “Kabul Luftbrücke” comments on the situation: “Members of the justice sector are one of the most vulnerable groups in Afghanistan. It is precisely for this reason that many were originally and justifiably granted admission to Germany.” The fact that these commitments are now collectively under review again, and thus currently invalid, Sünkel calls a disrespect, narrow-mindedness and irresponsibility with regard to the former activity of these people, their situation, persecution situation and simply survival: “This general suspicion is not justified by anything.”
Sünkel attributes the measure to a bunch of articles in right-wing populist media. This was preceded by the leak of a letter from the German ambassador to Pakistan. Christofer Burger, spokesman for the German Foreign Office, already refuted the accusation at the Federal Press Conference on April 5:
No, rows and rows of Sharia judges have not come to Germany.
He also stated that the attempts at abuse that have been identified so far are “daily bread” of all foreign missions. There was no trace of danger in these statements.
The authorities wanted to use the three-month admission freeze for at-risk Afghans to establish new security criteria. The temporal connection to the publications suggests that the vetting of entire groups of people from the Afghan justice sector was based on these refuted allegations. The Federal Foreign Office (AA) and the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) do not want to confirm the connection after multiple inquiries.
Communication via detours is part of the problem, which Sünkel from the “Kabul Luftbrücke” also complains about: “Aid organizations only find out about new regulations from the news, and affected people can’t find any information on the embassies’ websites for weeks.” Taking in threatened people from Afghanistan is being handled, he said, as if it were a favor and not a responsibility that has grown over the 20 years of NATO’s mission: “As if we hadn’t made a messy troop withdrawal and then left thousands of allies behind.”
There are said to be at least 50 cases of lawyers temporarily suspending admission commitments in order to reconsider cases. That number is known at least to Kabul Luftbrücke, which has worked to take in vulnerable people since the Taliban took power in August 2021. Further cases are very likely. This is suggested by background conversations with other people involved in the admission programs who do not want to be quoted.
At the same time, even 50 lawyers in examination means significantly more affected persons. To each “main person” also belongs his family. In Samir A*’s (name changed) 1The contact with Samir A. came about rather by chance via Twitter. The author has therefore been following his situation since April. The interviews for this article took place on July 4. By the time this article appeared, the situation of the jurists quoted had not changed; they continue to live in complete obscurity. this is the former prosecutor himself, his four children (the oldest eleven years old) and his wife – 34 weeks pregnant at the time of publication of this article. As late as March, everything looked good for him; he received the acceptance letter with the information that he would have to apply for visas to leave the country himself via the third countries Iran or Pakistan. By the end of the month, he finally had them.
The joy ended abruptly when the Ministry of the Interior and the Foreign Office decided to impose a blanket ban on all those at risk. A. asked for help, wrote to the German embassies in both countries, the AA, the government service office that had sent him the acceptance letter. “Instead of help, I received conflicting information,” he describes. On the one hand, he had received a standard e-mail informing him of the ban on leaving the country, with the reassuring remark that this did not affect his acceptance.
On the other hand, on April 10, he received a personal message that he and his family were currently not entitled to any assistance; not even temporarily in the third country, as his acceptance of admission was being reconsidered. “I am very worried about my wife. I want her to be able to have her child in safety and receive the medical care she needs,” A. stresses. As proof of pregnancy, he sends along the results of the last ultrasound examination. The father of the family does not know what the situation is regarding the reconsideration of his case.
Lastly, he was asked to refrain from further inquiries. Only one thing is certain: Samir A.’s wife will give birth to their child in Afghanistan; without secured medical care.
Roshan P.* (name changed) also received his acceptance letter on March 3; on March 23, he was informed that it would be reviewed again. By then, however, he had already applied for and received Pakistani visas at great cost; he paid $1,000 per family member. “I received the information only after I told GIZ.The 2German Society for International Cooperation is a company whose only shareholder is the German state. I told them that I now had visas for my whole family,” he says. The email had not received any info on how long the review process would take and exactly how it would work.
It was not until July 6 that Roshan P. was contacted again; from an unknown phone number. A man called who spoke (Iranian) Persian and asked for his education records. He should send them by e-mail. He had not responded to queries. Roshan P. took the opportunity to follow up again in the email with his documents about how long the review would take. An answer has not yet been received.
Both the AA and the BMI do not comment in detail on the renewed reviews of Jurist:innen. Both address only in general terms the review procedures for admission commitments. How this should ideally proceed and how long the process should take also remain open questions. According to the BMI, “Acceptance commitments for persons to be admitted to the BAP AFG are subject to the proviso that no security-relevant findings arise in the further procedure and that the visa procedure is successfully completed.
The same applies to admissions in the other admission procedures, he said: “Thus, exclusion from the procedure can occur at any stage of the examination if relevant findings arise.” The persons would be comprehensively informed about these framework conditions before the departure process begins when they receive the admission commitment: “This ensures transparent communication, even in the event that an admission commitment has to be revoked and the persons cannot enter Germany.”
A spokeswoman for the AA emphasizes: “Security is the top priority in the departure processes. At the same time, however, the German government is of course aware of the threat situations in which those seeking admission find themselves.” The German government is therefore continuously working on optimizing the processes: “Normally, persons who are threatened by the Taliban takeover and who receive an admission permit pass through the exit procedure without any problems and can subsequently enter Germany. 3A longer but similarily vague statement was given at the government press conference on 31st May 2023.
Just a few years ago, Germany’s role in Afghanistan looked more positive. Among others, GIZ as well as German NGOs were involved in the promotion of the rule of law, conducted training and education. Kaihan F. Was one of those who held trainings for lawyers for ten years, in 2010 he graduated in law himself. He looks back on the development, which he does not want to see overshadowed by current events.
“Twenty or 25 years ago in Afghanistan, it was normal to kill someone to seize power,” he says. But in the time that followed, the presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani were examples of how things could be done differently. “I don’t mean to deny corruption or to say that there were no problems. However, I think it was a very important symbol, the way Karzai handed over the presidency ceremoniously and peacefully.” In other respects, too, there has been a change of attitude among the general public. Kaihan F. now wants to see this reflected in the resistance to the Taliban: “Even now, you hardly see weapons at the protests; rather, they are peaceful and non-violent. Not because we like the Taliban, but because we remain civilized.”
He also traces positive developments in other respects. “In the early 2000s, the law of arms applied, and it was then superseded by the rule of law,” he summarizes. The educational work done by the NGO he worked for, among others, also played a major role in this, he says: “As recently as 2010, when I started traveling around provinces on a professional basis, there were judges in many places there were judges in many places who had just a high school diploma or even a regular high school diploma. By the end of the republic, judges were required to have a law or Shariah degree and to pass judicial exams.”
During the appointments in the provinces, he said, he often encountered mainly prejudices. “I was often told that human rights were un-Islamic after all,” he recalls. In the course of the conversation, it turned out that it was not the content of human rights that was at issue, but the title itself: “It was somehow associated with the West, as if these values were imported. In his training sessions, he was able to clear up this misunderstanding, he says: “In the end, everyone listened to me attentively and realized that human rights are very compatible with Islam.” Some would even have apologized to him; for their initial defensiveness.
The influence of lawyers has also increased. The influence of lawyers had also increased. Criminal defense lawyers had not been known for a long time before that, but in recent years it had become increasingly normal to have a lawyer to represent you in court and during investigations: “It’s been common in civil law lately, too.”
Romal M. also once had big dreams: “When I was little, our house was taken away from us. There was no place we could turn to back then. I decided then that one day I would do something against injustice.” As he grew older, the dream became more concrete, and finally he was actually active as a prosecutor for 15 years and was thus able to make a very concrete contribution against injustice and for the rule of law.
He said it saddens him that all the progress is now over:
It is painful to observe how the former judges and prosecutors are now persecuted as infidels, the judicial system has been abolished; this is worse than the Taliban regime in the 1990s.