Afghanistan: German government abandons courageous Afghan women – a timeline
Spring 2021: The women’s rights organisation medica mondiale and its Afghan partner organisation are on alert. International troops are preparing for their unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan and, at the same time, the Taliban are moving into ever more provinces. Security measures are enhanced in the three offices in Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul. For 20 years, the organisations have been working together to run projects in the country, supporting survivors of sexualised violence. There is a very real threat to this work now. The activists and other staff at the Afghan organisation fear for their lives.
The Taliban take over more areas of the country
Only a few months later: The Taliban have advanced into further regions of Afghanistan. On August 12 and 13 the colleagues from Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif manage to reach the safety of Kabul just in time, as the Taliban take over their cities. For a whole week beforehand the activists were destroying anything that could pose a risk to them or the women and girls they had supported: personnel records, client files, legal defence papers, recordings from the surveillance cameras.
From this point on, the staff of both organisations work around the clock to try and secure an opportunity to evacuate the Afghan colleagues and their families as quickly as possible. Ensuring the safety of our colleagues has our utmost priority: we work together with experienced international security experts, who in turn call on their local and global networks. The support from these experts includes advice on how and where to accommodate the women and their families in Kabul as safely as possible. At the same time, they monitor secure routes to the airport.
Mid-August: The situation at the airport in Kabul escalates
We provide the German Foreign Office with a list of the names of our colleagues and their family members even before the first German airlift takes off on August 16. Time and again we are reassured that all the relevant authorities are aware of our colleagues. Everything is being done to evacuate them, we are told. However, we do not receive any binding commitment or specific information about how any possible evacuation will take place. Valuable time is wasted.
The situation at the airport in Kabul escalates further. Desperation and final glimmers of hope are leading growing numbers of people to gather around the airport gates. The security situation is deteriorating from hour to hour. Other Afghan women’s rights activists whose names are on evacuation lists tell us how they and their families struggled to get through the desperate crowds, only to be refused entry to the airport site.
And then there are also the checkpoints of the Taliban set up at various locations to block the routes to the airport.
Written confirmation arrives much too late
The hours are running down. US authorities are sending visas and information on flights to vulnerable people by mobile phone. It is not until Wednesday, 25 August, one day before the last evacuation flight of the Bundeswehr that we receive the written confirmation of admission for some of our colleagues and their families. We forward this immediately by e-mail to the colleagues in Afghanistan.
On Thursday (Aug 26) the time finally comes: some of the women and their relatives are on the list for a civilian evacuation flight. They manage to get past the Taliban checkpoints and reach the airport. The German authorities assure us that they have sent copies of their lists to the troops in the airport. However, at the gate to the airport compound, our colleagues are denied access. They try to persuade the soldiers at the gate, but these react with threats and start shooting into the ground at the feet of the crowds. Our colleagues abort this attempt.
Still very worried, but not giving up!
Some time later, explosions rock the area around the airport. Almost 200 people die in these attacks. We are deeply shocked, but also relieved: our colleagues are no longer near the airport gates at this time.
We are exhausted, angry and very worried about the safety of our Afghan colleagues. The German government has betrayed these courageous women. In recent years, Germany financed the work of these women as they helped establish women’s rights and constitutionality in their country. This work placed the women at risk and they now fear for their lives.
For us, there is no question: We will continue to work to ensure the safety of the colleagues in Afghanistan, even after the end of the airlifts by international armed forces.
Absolute priority needs to be given to the security of women’s rights activists and all other endangered people who worked to promote human rights, a pluralist society and liberty in Afghanistan in recent years.
medica mondiale is calling for
- the German government to fulfil its pledge to class all Afghan women’s rights activists as especially endangered people, and consequently to apply § 22 of the Residence Act to them in the same way as recognised ‘local employees’. This would include our colleagues and their families. These people need to receive all the documents necessary for leaving the country from the responsible German authorities as soon as possible.
- the German government to use the negotiations with the Taliban and its cooperation with the international community to do everything in its power to ensure that vulnerable people can still be evacuated after the international troops withdraw from Afghanistan. This could be on civilian flights, for example, and there will need to be a guaranteed safe corridor to the airport for this purpose.
- the unbureaucratic possibility to be kept open for women’s rights activists and other vulnerable people who managed to escape to a third country to then secure further passage to Germany.
- the German government to rapidly provide transparent information on further evacuations and their schedules to affected organisations and individuals. Permanent contact persons should be named to be responsible for communication with civil society representatives.
- large-scale programs at national level and within individual federal states to receive all the people who worked towards human rights, democracy and a free society in Afghanistan who managed to escape Afghanistan to Germany or a third country.
Afghanistan: On the evacuation of women’s rights activists from Kabul (News of August 25, 2021)
Afghanistan: On the current situation of the women’s rights activists (News of August 18, 2021)