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German Politicians Fret Over Afghan Refugees As Election Looms


We're going to begin today by looking at the ongoing effort to evacuate civilians from Afghanistan. Today, the Pentagon acknowledged the dangerous conditions around the airport in Kabul, calling it a fluid and dynamic situation. Still, the U.S. military says it's already evacuated some 17,000 people from Afghanistan since last week. Now, the main focus in Afghanistan has been on the U.S., but America is not the only nation rushing to get people out of that country. After the U.S., Germany had the largest military presence there, and it, too, is conducting its own evacuation.

Earlier today, Germany's defense minister told reporters that their military has airlifted almost 2,000 people out of Kabul. But with Germany already having taken in more than half a million Afghan refugees in the last few years, far more than the U.S., now the question is whether more refugees will be welcome. And that is becoming a campaign issue ahead of an election there in September. Esme Nicholson has this report from Berlin.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: As German soldiers in Kabul scramble to evacuate Afghans who've assisted them over the past two decades, politicians in Berlin who are gearing up for the election are playing the blame game over why evacuations didn't start earlier. Meanwhile, Afghans in Germany have been protesting outside the foreign ministry to get their relatives out of Afghanistan. Thirty-two-year-old Ahmad (ph) - who wouldn't give his surname out of fear for his family back home - worked for nine years with German troops. He came to Germany in 2015, but his family is still in Afghanistan.

AHMAD: (Through interpreter) I think of my family day and night. I can't see a way to get them to safety, and I can't go back. Because I worked for the military, my family is now in danger. On my first day working with the army, I asked them what would happen if my family or I got into trouble. And I was told the German army has my back. Now that day has come, and we've been forgotten.

NICHOLSON: His concerns are justified. German broadcaster Deutsche Welle confirmed Thursday that the Taliban shot dead a relative of a reporter who works for its Pashto service and has made it to Germany. The German government vows to help those it employed directly, but it's unclear for those who worked for other organizations or as subcontractors and freelancers. While there is widespread concern in Germany about the plight of Afghans left to endure Taliban rule, the mission itself has never been popular.

THOMAS WIEGOLD: Public opinion is that these 20 years were in vain.

NICHOLSON: Thomas Wiegold reports on Germany's military.

WIEGOLD: And it's even worse when it comes to one of the main tasks of the German military that is training and advising the Afghan National Army because this army in most cases didn't fire a single shot, handed over their bases to the Taliban. And so soldiers are asking themselves - why did we train those people?

NICHOLSON: Security expert Jana Puglierin, who heads up the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, says politicians here are nervous about the issue of refugees because of the September election. Chancellor Angela Merkel's 2015 policy allowing refugees in from Syria fueled a rise in far-right populism. But Puglierin says Germany and Europe have since restricted immigration.

JANA PUGLIERIN: If you look at how hard it has become to reach Europe, it's the phantom debate because we are discussing something which is not very likely to happen the same way as in 2015.

NICHOLSON: And for the Afghans who make it to Germany, many of them still face uncertainty. Ahmad arrived six years ago, but he hasn't been granted asylum.

AHMAD: (Through interpreter) I have temporary permission to be here, which I have to renew every three months. This means I'm not allowed to work, and I can't sleep for worry.

NICHOLSON: This precarious status is known officially as geduldet, which means tolerated. Not only does Ahmad live in fear of being deported, he says that after 20 years of Western intervention in his country, he'd hoped for more than just tolerance.

For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Esme Nicholson
[Copyright 2024 NPR]