The German government is rejecting its Afghan staff’s pleas for evacuation, despite its own development agency warning they face Taliban retaliation
Following the chaotic withdrawal of Western countries from Kabul in August 2021, Germany was quick to promise that it wouldn’t leave its local Afghan staff behind.
Germany supported a vast number of development projects in Afghanistan and employed thousands of Afghan men and women to implement them. A few months after Kabul fell, a new German government took office with a pledge to ensure that endangered Afghan local staff could be “brought to safety through unbureaucratic procedures… We will not abandon our allies.”
But two years later, in the latest instalment of our Left Behind series, an investigation by Lighthouse Reports, Süddeutsche Zeitung, WDR and NDR reveals that Germany is overlooking internal risk assessments carried out by its own development agency GIZ in order to turn away Afghan workers, some of whom have been beaten and tortured by the Taliban.
Around 6,600 Afghans have applied to Germany’s relocation program for government workers now at risk in Afghanistan, known as Ortskräfteverfahren (OKV). Some 2,500 have been rejected and 700 are still awaiting a decision. The vast majority worked for GIZ, which directly employed around 1,000 Afghan local staff in 2021 and is estimated to have employed thousands more on temporary contracts.
We verified the stories of 20 former GIZ contractors still in Afghanistan who have been threatened and in some cases physically harmed by the Taliban, who label them as “infidels” for having worked with Germany.
We also found two cases of GIZ workers who were murdered by the Taliban in the year prior to the fall of Kabul. GIZ says there is no evidence that they were killed due to their work for the organisation, but their relatives and colleagues say they’re certain that they were killed because of their jobs.
We spoke with dozens of Afghan men and women who worked in public-facing roles for GIZ in the years before the Taliban takeover. The vast majority of them remain in Afghanistan and have either been rejected or are still awaiting a response from OKV. We interviewed relatives and colleagues of those who were killed, and former GIZ staff now in Germany who spoke in detail about the risks they and their colleagues faced.
We analysed these testimonies alongside reams of documents including GIZ contracts, photographs of injuries, medical notes and Taliban threat letters, in order to establish the extent to which former GIZ workers are at risk due to their work with the organisation.
Crucially, we obtained internal government documents that showed risk assessments carried out by GIZ deemed former workers to be at risk because of their work with the organisation. We identified a clear contradiction in the dangers GIZ concluded that its employees face and the ultimate decisions made by the German government – which reviewed the GIZ assessments as part of the OKV process.
By obtaining thousands of pages of internal correspondence between various German ministries involved in the OKV decisions, we were also able to piece together how the process for evaluating which Afghan local staff qualify for evacuation was kept intentionally narrow from the beginning.
“Things seem to be getting out of hand,” German development minister Martin Jäger wrote to high-ranking employees in his ministry in August 2021. “We run the risk that in the end too many and the wrong people will come to Germany.” Another internal government document ordered “restrictive handling” of cases of Afghan contractors.
The majority of former GIZ workers we spoke to had been working for one of GIZ’s largest projects in Afghanistan, the Police Cooperation Project (PCP), which trained Afghan police officers in basic literacy skills and democratic values. It was rolled out across the country, even in remote areas which German national GIZ staff avoided for security reasons. An internal GIZ document states: “PCP employees are considered to be particularly at risk due to their visibility in public and their cooperation with the police.”
Despite working full-time for the project, often for many years, most Afghans who worked for the PCP were not considered regular employees but contractors. The German government states that OKV applications from contractors are processed in the same way as permanent employees, assessed on an “individual basis”. However, the vast majority of PCP applicants have been rejected — 1,045 out of 1,318, with only 56 so far accepted.
Gulab Ahmadi*, in his thirties, worked for over five years in a senior role for PCP up until the fall of Kabul. Now in hiding, Ahmadi lives in perpetual fear of being arrested by the Taliban. His father was arrested and questioned about his son’s whereabouts earlier this year.
After Ahmadi applied for relocation to Germany in 2022, a GIZ risk assessment concluded that he is “publicly perceived in his role, both in his activities and through the many trips to different places of work, and thus worked in a clearly exposed position,” and lives in “great fear.”
The assessment concludes: “Since [the individual] is part of the PCP as part of its work for the police, its situation must be classified as particularly endangered.”
Yet the German government rejected Ahmadi, stating that – in clear contradiction to GIZ’s risk assessment – his situation does not constitute an “individual risk that goes beyond the general risk currently prevailing in Afghanistan”.
“I made myself an enemy of the Taliban, an enemy of the people who don’t believe in democracy,” he told us. “A great injustice has been done to me here.”
Nawandish Khaliqi*, who worked for PCP for nine years, was brutally tortured by the Taliban in July 2021 after the militant group recaptured his hometown. We verified his story through photos and witness accounts and obtained an official assessment concluding that he was “exposed to a particular danger” due to his work for PCP. Yet Khaliqi is still waiting for a response to his OKV application, made over a year ago, in constant fear that he’ll be captured again.
“I had the expectation that at least the German government would evacuate me, but they left me behind with a lot of problems,” he said. “They say they respect human rights, but clearly they don’t think we deserve basic human rights.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities