“How much more can a nation tolerate?”
That is what Aisha Khurram – who is among us today, and who will speak in a moment – wrote on Twitter in April: She was reacting to the deadly bombing of a school in Kabul, and the banning of Afghan girls from classrooms across the country.
How much more can Afghans tolerate? – that’s also what I thought last week, when I learned of the fatal earthquake in your country.
The quake killed over 1000 people. Many more were injured and have lost their homes.
Germany is sending medical aid to the disaster zone – and with our humanitarian partners, we are looking for ways to do more.
In such a terrible moment, the victims deserve our full support.
The quake was just the most recent devastation Afghans had to suffer.
Since last summer, your country has been experiencing a storm of humanitarian and political crises.
Millions of children, women and men don’t have enough food to eat.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been forced from their homes are seeking shelter elsewhere in their country.
And the Taliban have been robbing Afghans of their rights and freedom, particularly women and girls.
Many of you in this room have experienced this yourself – and you know it much better than I do.
A year ago, most of you were still in Afghanistan. Your lives were difficult, often in danger.
And still, you worked as journalists, activists or judges. You had your families and loved ones around you. And you contributed to a better future for the Afghan people.
The Taliban took all this away from you. You had to leave behind your country, your careers, your families – and many of your dreams.
Today, you are in Germany. You no longer fear for your lives. But I know: That does not mean things are easy.
You have to start a new life in a country whose language many of you don’t speak. Whose employers do not always recognise your degrees and your work experience. And whose bureaucracy is sometimes exhausting – actually also for many Germans – with its complex rules and requirements.
Still, all of you are showing remarkable power and resolve. You are enrolling in German universities or taking up new jobs.
And all of you are looking for ways to continue supporting Afghanistan and its people from here.
That is why we have invited you to today’s conference.
Because we are united by a common goal: Not to give up the idea of a better and more prosperous Afghanistan, one that offers a free and open home to all Afghans – no matter their gender, their beliefs, their ethnic background.
Let me be clear: The German Government stands by Afghanistan and its people! We recognise our special responsibility towards the Afghans – and particularly towards those whom we promised to welcome in Germany.
With Russia’s war raging in Ukraine, Afghanistan has almost disappeared from European television programmes and newspaper headlines. But that does not mean we have forgotten you.
Last week, we took stock of our Action Plan for Afghanistan, which I launched half a year ago when coming into office:
Since then, Germany has stepped up its efforts as the biggest humanitarian donor to Afghanistan. And two thirds of the Afghans we promised to take in are now in Germany.
But at the same time, too many Afghans who are holding an acceptance status or who are seeking to be reunited with their families are still waiting to get out.
And we know about this – we know about the single cases: I just got a letter by Afghan women who demonstrated last summer and who have recently arrived in Pakistan. We know that every single person counts. We care for every single one.
But I would also like to underline that in the end – even though we are trying our best, together with your help, together with the help of many NGOs here in Germany – there are always the Taliban standing in our way. However, we are keeping up our efforts.
Too many Afghans in the country are hungry. A deadly food crisis is looming in the winter.
In the coming weeks and months, we will therefore further intensify our efforts to help the people in Afghanistan. This is why we invited you today, to hear from you about the difficulties on the ground.
For me it is most important that we continue our humanitarian support – and I explicitly say that this does not come with a legitimisation of the Taliban regime. Our support goes to the Afghan people.
We will also work towards ensuring that all Afghan citizens with an acceptance status can in fact come to Germany – as difficult as that may be.
When I visited Pakistan this month, the Pakistani Government committed to supporting our programme of assisted travel to Germany via Islamabad. I am very thankful for that.
We are also adapting our administrative procedures, including the visa process to facilitate a speedy transit. And we are working with other countries in the region.
Finally, stepping up our support for Afghanistan means that we support civil society – and that means working with all of you.
Despite the Taliban takeover, we are still funding civil society projects in Afghanistan – especially for basic health services and victims of sexual violence, but also educational projects.
But because civic space in Afghanistan is shrinking, we are also focusing on Afghan civil society actors who are working from Germany or third countries.
And since this is very important to me and my colleagues as well as to other ministries, we have expanded programmes and scholarships, so that Afghan human rights defenders, artists and journalists can work from here, so that students and scientists can continue their research from Germany and elsewhere.
Some beneficiaries of these programmes are here with us today – and I welcome you very warmly.
We want to build on this – but to do so, we truly need you, we need your insights. You are experts in these topics, you are experts in supporting civil society in Afghanistan.
Today’s conference is about listening and making your voices heard.
We have set it up with three goals in mind:
First, we want to hear how you think we can preserve space for civil society in Afghanistan: What is the situation on the ground – and what can be done in practice?
I’m not a fan of producing nice headlines about things which in the end do not work out because the situation is totally different in villages where support is needed. So we need you as experts in order to set up successful projects.
Second, we want to learn how we – the German Government – can better help you as activists based here in Germany in your work trying to improve the situation in Afghanistan.
And third, we want to bring the “new” and the “old” Afghan diaspora in Germany together.
This diaspora is quite big, with more than 300,000 people who have profound expertise on Afghanistan, who are in close touch with friends and relatives in your country.
Some of you have been running projects in Afghanistan from Germany since the 1990s.
We want to encourage you to share your experiences with those who arrived during the last months and years.
We will be discussing all this in different workshops today – and we are eager to hear your observations, assessments and recommendations.
I don’t expect us to find perfect answers to all current challenges today – this is just the start of a dialogue. But if we do not start this dialogue, we will never find answers.
And we have to be realistic about the situation in Afghanistan.
“How much more can Afghans tolerate?” – that was the question you, Aisha Khurram, raised.
And, frankly speaking, we don’t know the answer. But what we do know is that we have to do everything to support the people in Afghanistan in the current situation.
This is our firm commitment: To do all we can to help improve the lives of Afghanistan’s men, women and children, especially girls.
That is what we are here for today – and I thank you for joining us.