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.


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.