French victory ends long asylum battle of Afghan interpreters

Afghan former interpreters for the French army hold banners during a demonstration demanding French visas outside of the French Embassy in Kabul. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2019

French victory ends long asylum battle of Afghan interpreters

  • For years after the French troops pulled out, many Afghan interpreters were left exposed to revenge attacks by Islamist fundamentalists
  • A top French court ordered the state to give immediate protection to all those who had been previously turned away

PARIS: They served the French army on the frontlines in Afghanistan, sometimes bearing arms during operations by international forces against the Taliban.
But for years after the French troops pulled out, many Afghan interpreters were left exposed to revenge attacks by Islamist fundamentalists and denied asylum by the country for which they worked.
Their long fight for protection from France ended on February 1 when a top French court ordered the state to give immediate protection to all those who had been previously turned away.
As Afghanistan sinks further into violence, those who serve or have served foreign militaries are particularly at risk from the Taliban, who view them as traitors.
Zainullah Oryakhail, 30, served as an interpreter for a French battalion from 2009 to 2013 — a role for which he was occasionally armed with a French assault rifle to use in the event of an ambush.
On January 7, his long quest for asylum ended when he arrived in France with his family, a year after he fled his village 38 kilometers (around 24 miles) north of Kabul.
Oryakhail, who had been denied asylum by France in 2015, had already survived a drive-by shooting at his home and then been wounded in a suicide motorcycle bombing as he spoke to a NATO patrol outside his house.
Convinced both attacks were linked to his work with the French military, over which he had received multiple threats, he moved to a freezing, one-room apartment in a suburb of Kabul.
He survived by doing odd jobs, living in constant fear, until December 2018, when France’s Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, ordered he be given immediate protection, along with five other interpreters whose asylum requests had been rejected in 2015.
In the landmark ruling, the court said that the state owed local staff a duty of “functional protection.”
In a follow-up decision on February 1 the council went further, extending the protection to all the interpreters whose asylum requests had been rejected, including those who missed a government deadline to apply.
The ruling, which also sets a precedent for local people employed by the French army in other conflict zones such as the Sahel region of West Africa, comes too late for some Afghans who sought safety in France.
Qader Daoudzai, an interpreter for the French military from 2010 to 2012 whose visa application was rejected in 2015, died in a bomb blast in Kabul on October 20.
He left behind a pregnant wife and three children.
Yusefi Z., another former interpreter who cannot be fully identified for safety reasons, was severely wounded, and his step-brother killed, in mid-January in a bomb blast in Kabul, where he remains in hiding.
France was the fifth-biggest contributor of troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014, when the last of its soldiers left the country.
Over the course of its long deployment, the military employed 770 local staff in positions such as interpreters, drivers and warehouse workers.
A total of 224 interpreters received visas to move to France in three waves of relocations between 2013 and 2018, according to the Association of the French Army’s Afghan Interpreters, but many were then turned down.
France is not the only country accused of failing to provide adequate protection for former Afghan employees.
A British parliamentary committee last year found Britain had “dismally failed” to look after 7,000 former Afghan staff.
Defending France’s record, a defense ministry source, who asked not to be identified, said French officials had spent a month in the region in late 2018 to hear new asylum requests and reopen old cases.
The mission was carried out “at the request of the French president, taking into account the deterioration of the situation during the past 12 months in Kabul and Kapisa,” the province where most of the French troops were stationed, the official said.
At the end of the mission, 218 long-stay visas were granted to former employees and their families, the official said, adding: “France cannot be accused of doing nothing.”
But for Quentin Mueller, co-author of a book entitled “Interpreter, a French Betrayal” (“Tarjuman, une Trahison française“) published last week, France abandoned those who were its “eyes and ears in the fight” against the Taliban.
“It treated them like ordinary migrants who would like to take advantage of the French system,” he said.
The book’s other author Brice Andauer denounced the asylum process as “intentionally opaque and secretive,” saying many applicants had been turned down with no reason given.
Noting that the French army’s local Afghan staff were routinely subjected to background checks, he argued there were few chances of extremists slipping through the system into France.
“Furthermore, the Taliban have never advocated global jihad,” he pointed out.
Today, there are still close to 550 former interpreters and other service providers who could claim protected status in France.
Some have already joined the migrant trail to Europe or moved to neighboring countries, having lost hope of being brought to safety.


Texas officer charged with murder, resigns after shooting

Updated 15 October 2019

Texas officer charged with murder, resigns after shooting

  • Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed, according to the family's attorney

FORT WORTH, TEXAS: A white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a black woman through a back window of her home while responding to a call about an open front door was charged with murder on Monday after resigning from the force.
Aaron Dean, 34, was booked into jail on a murder charge Monday afternoon. The police chief said earlier in the day that he acted without justification and would have been fired if he didn't quit.
Police bodycam video showed Dean approaching the door of the home where Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was caring for her 8-year-old nephew early Saturday. He then walked around the side of the house, pushed through a gate into the fenced-off backyard and fired through the glass a split-second after shouting at Jefferson to show her hands.
Dean was not heard identifying himself as police on the video, and Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said there was no sign Dean or the other officer who responded even knocked on the front door.
"Nobody looked at this video and said that there's any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately," Kraus said.
Earlier in the day, Jefferson's family had demanded that Dean, a member of the force for 1½ years, be fired and arrested.
"Why this man is not in handcuffs is a source of continued agitation for this family and for this community," family attorney Lee Merritt said.
Police went to Jefferson's home about 2:25 a.m. after a neighbor called a non-emergency line to report a door ajar. In a statement over the weekend, the department said officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his gun and fired after "perceiving a threat."
The video showed Dean shouting, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" and immediately firing.
Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed, according to the family's attorney.
As for what, exactly, led Dean to open fire, the police chief said: "I cannot make sense of why she had to lose her life." The chief said Dean resigned without talking to internal affairs investigators.
The video included images of a gun inside a bedroom. Kraus said he did not know whether Jefferson was holding the weapon. But he said the mere fact she had a gun shouldn't be considered unusual in Texas.
"We're homeowners in Texas," the police chief said. "Most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn't be and we had access to a firearm, we would be acting very similarly to how she was acting." Kraus said that, in hindsight, releasing the images of the weapon was "a bad thing to do."
Mayor Betsy Price called the gun "irrelevant."
"Atatiana was in her own home, caring for her 8-year-old nephew. She was a victim," Price said.
Texas has had a "castle doctrine" law on the books since 2007 that gives people a stronger legal defense to use deadly force in their homes. The law was backed at the time by the National Rifle Association and is similar to "stand your ground" measures across the U.S. that say a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder.
Fort Worth is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Dallas, where another high-profile police shooting occurred last year.
In that case, white Dallas officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her black neighbor Botham Jean inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook his place for her own. Guyger, 31, was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison.
A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson's home Sunday night for a vigil after demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on Interstate 35. A single bullet hole was visible in the window of the single-story, freshly painted purple home, and floral tributes and stuffed animals piled up in the street.
The police chief said Dean could face state charges and that he had submitted a case to the FBI to review for possible federal civil rights charges.
Dean has not yet hired an attorney but will have one provided with financial support from the state's largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, according to Charley Wilkison, executive director.
Relations with the public have been strained after other recent Fort Worth police shootings. In June, the department released footage of officers killing a man who ignored repeated orders to drop his handgun. He was the fourth person Fort Worth police had fired upon in 10 days.
Of the nine officer-involved shootings so far this year in Fort Worth, five targeted African Americans and six resulted in death, according to department data.
Nearly two-thirds of the department's 1,100 officers are white, just over 20% are Hispanic, and about 10% are black. The city of nearly 900,000 people is about 40% white, 35% Hispanic and 19% black.
Calling the shooting "a pivotal moment in our city," the mayor said she was ordering a top-to-bottom review of the police force and vowed to "rebuild a sense of trust within the city and with our police department."
Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and earned a bachelor's degree in biology. She was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going to medical school, according to the family's lawyer.