Desperate Afghans attempt to enter the barricaded airport in Kabul, August 17 2021. Photo: Reuters
Desperate Afghans attempt to enter the barricaded airport in Kabul, August 17 2021. Photo: Reuters

Nadia* worked in a French military camp in Afghanistan. Now she feels threatened by the Taliban because of her work with the French. After applying several times for a visa to get to France, she was always rejected. At the start of August, she spoke to InfoMigrants about her fears as the Taliban approached Kabul.

Like all Afghans, Nadia* will never forget the moment on August 15 when the Taliban took over Kabul. "I was at my workplace when my brother called me. He told me to go home because the situation was tense," she told InfoMigrants by phone. "In the evening, the Taliban entered Kabul."

For the young woman, who has faced threats for years for working in a French military camp, the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul was the beginning of a living nightmare. "Sunday night, I couldn't sleep all night and I haven't been able to sleep since. [...] Psychologically, I am devastated. I can't describe my mental state," she confided, exhausted by the stress and lack of sleep.

On August 16, Nadia listened attentively to every single word of French President Emmanuel Macron's speech. "I waited until 2 in the morning so I could read about what the French president said about the Afghans. He mentioned the people who worked with the French army. I hope this includes me and that France will not abandon me."

Macron said in his televised address that Paris' priority was to evacuate the French still in Afghanistan, including diplomats, humanitarians and journalists, whose number is estimated at a few dozen.

But "our duty and our dignity" is also "to protect" the Afghans who have helped France and are, therefore, threatened by the Taliban, whether they are "interpreters, drivers or cooks," added Macron.

'A total blur'

These words have given a faint light of hope to the young woman and her lawyer, Antoine Ory. Along with other lawyers, Ory has been trying to produce a list of helpers to the French army who are still in Kabul to send it to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

"It is a total blur. We have no information on how their eventual repatriation could take place," says Ory. And time is running out. The imminent departure of the last Westerners could mark the beginning of a great wave of violence for those left behind in Afghanistan.

"Now the Taliban are gathering information about the inhabitants of Kabul. They are waiting for the Americans to leave and then they will assassinate all those who have worked with the foreign forces. The coming days and weeks will be horrible," predicts Nadia.

Since the arrival of the Islamist fighters in the Afghan capital, the young woman has not left her house "for fear of being identified." A few weeks ago, she was explicitly threatened with death by an uncle for having worked for the French army.

"We don't know where he is. I fear that he has already denounced me to the Taliban", the young woman told InfoMigrants. According to Nadia, the Taliban have already "started searching houses in the west of Kabul. This is where the Hazaras [a Shiite minority particularly targeted by the Taliban] live".

For her lawyer, there are "a few hours" left to save the last helpers of the French army. Holed up at home and despite the fear that paralyzes her, Nadia tries to keep hope alive: "I have no choice."

'Easy prey'

Of the approximately 800 Afghans employed by French troops between 2001 and 2014, about 270 have been able to obtain a French visa. But about 80 cases remain blocked, including that of Nadia - one of only three female helpers in the French army. Nadia faces triple layers of threat as she is a woman, a former aid to the French and a member of the Shiite minority.

While Macron's words on the need to "protect against large irregular migration flows" have been sharply criticized by human rights advocates, many have called on the French authorities to expand the repatriation of Afghans under threat.

In an article published in the Le Monde newspaper on Monday, a group of lawyers, including Ory, demanded "immediate protection" for interpreters and other helpers of the French army.

"Following what happened with the purges carried out in 1996 after the assassination of President Najibullah and their takeover of Kabul, the Taliban will be ruthless with those who have collaborated with foreign powers again. [...] They will be identified by the Taliban and they will be easy prey. The Taliban will make examples of them to establish their new authority," the lawyers emphasized, highlighting that several interpreters have already been murdered in retaliation for their collaboration with the French army.

As a former French army employee, Nadia had already applied for protection in 2019, but the Ministry of Defense refused her request on the grounds that the young woman could not provide concrete evidence of the threats she said she was likely to become the target of.

Despite the threats she has experienced, on July 28, the Paris administrative court rejected Nadia's visa application, ruling that the evidence produced by the former French army helper "does not attest to the reality of the fears she invokes." Nadia filed an application with the administrative court against the visa refusal. Whatever happens next, could be a question of life and death.

*In order to protect her identity, the name of the interviewee has been changed.

 

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