On 15 August 2021, the Taliban took over Kabul and thus seized power in Afghanistan. The economic and humanitarian crisis in the country has continued to deteriorate since then, and human rights are being restricted on a massive scale. Shortly after taking office, on 23 December 2021, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock presented her Action Plan for Afghanistan. Its primary goals are to support the civilian population and to accelerate the departure of former local employees as well as particularly at-risk Afghans for whom Germany bears responsibility. What has been achieved in the six months since then? Which goals have not yet been reached? Where have things potentially moved backwards rather than forwards?
Around two thirds of the people who have been approved for admission to Germany have now been able to leave Afghanistan. That is over 21,000 Afghans who either worked for Germany as local employees or were involved in efforts for democracy and human rights in Afghanistan. The majority of the local employees in particular have been able to leave – around 75%. In addition, almost all German nationals and their families have left the country. However, around 10,000 people are still waiting for an opportunity to do so. These are primarily people who are on the “human rights list” and are therefore particularly at risk. Only half of this group has so far managed to leave Afghanistan.
Obstacles and solutions
There are many obstacles. The Taliban requires those leaving Afghanistan by air to show a passport, which many at-risk people do not have. And neighbouring countries insist on a visa, which can be expensive and also requires a passport. Around two thirds of departures have taken place via Pakistan. A well-oiled network is in place there, bringing together GIZ and NGOs who help people to leave Afghanistan and organise temporary accommodation in Islamabad for them as well as onward travel to Germany. To finance all of this, the Federal Foreign Office has provided GIZ with 32 million euro – the largest project to date in the field of organised departures. As a result, the pace of departures has significantly increased since January compared to the same period last year, with around 12,000 people having left Afghanistan so far in 2022.
Thanks to successful cooperation with the Pakistan Government, several thousand people without passports were able to travel using their Afghan identity documents. This was made possible by a special agreement with the Pakistan Government that was then extended. More than 2600 people have also left the country via Iran. Meanwhile, intensive negotiations are ongoing with other countries in the region – primarily Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Qatar – to enable departures via these countries, too.
Removing bureaucratic obstacles and creating a federal admission programme
Various bureaucratic obstacles have been removed in Germany to make it easier for eligible Afghans to enter the country. This includes simplified checks of certificates and other documents as well as a temporary waiver of the requirement for family members to take language tests. To accelerate the visa process, external service providers are being used and decisions on visa applications have been transferred to Germany from particularly overburdened missions abroad.
However, the federal admission programme for Afghanistan that was set out in the coalition agreement is still being developed. The German Bundestag has provided funding for this programme. Coordination is currently underway between the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Federal Foreign Office. To bridge the gap until the programme is in place, a simplified humanitarian visa process has been agreed for particularly urgent cases. Civil society involvement is an important part of this process, and the Foreign Minister and Interior Minister met with representatives of NGOs in March. NGOs also accompanied the Foreign Minister on her trip to Pakistan. The Minister will continue this dialogue, including with Afghan civil society.
Further restrictions on freedom and women’s rights in Afghanistan: Support for civil society
Amidst all of the developments in Afghanistan, there are concerns about the increasing restrictions on women’s rights in particular. Older girls remain banned from attending school. Female television presenters must cover their faces. Women can no longer travel unaccompanied. The concerted political pressure from the international community has not yet achieved any change in the Taliban’s behaviour, and nor have economic incentives.
The humanitarian and economic situation in the country remains precarious, too. Around half of the Afghan population is at risk of hunger and dependent on humanitarian assistance. Germany therefore co-hosted a major donor conference for Afghanistan which resulted in pledges of humanitarian assistance worth around 2.4 billion dollars. Meanwhile, Germany has pledged a further 200 million euro for 2022. The Federal Government is also working with international partners on ways to stabilise the desperate economic situation in Afghanistan – without the Taliban directly profiting. One thing that is particularly important is international support for the healthcare system.
Germany has expanded its protection programmes for students, academics and creatives. Together with the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, work is underway to set up a protection programme for at-risk journalists in order to support the media landscape in the face of enormous pressure.
With organisations such as UN Women, the Federal Government is supporting female Afghan human rights defenders, in Afghanistan as well as in neighbouring countries. And Germany is working with UN Women and others to reopen urgently needed institutions providing protection and advice for women and girls.