Hellenic Army’s Afghan interpreters left to their fate, still waiting for visas four years on
The last message I received from Rameen, one of five former interpreters for the Hellenic Army in Afghanistan, was sent a couple of weeks ago by e-mail. His desperation is more than apparent: “We really don’t know what to do; life is so hard here and we’re so confused and worried.”
In another message sent a few days earlier, he described how ISIS had started to infiltrate Afghanistan and how explosions had become an almost daily occurrence in the capital Kabul. In one attack, said Rameen, another of the five interpreters, Wais, sustained injuries to his face and hand.
“I was just 10 meters from the blast,” Wais said when I called him. Later he sent an e-mail in Greek, saying: “Things are not good. I’m afraid. What will happen to my children if something happens to me? Please know that things have changed 100 percent.”
For months, the men who worked as interpreters for the Hellenic Army’s Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT) in Kabul under the command of NATO and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from 2010 until the Greek team’s departure in the summer of 2012 have been trapped in the Afghan capital as they wait for the Greek authorities to make good on a promise to bring them safely to Greece.
Kathimerini presented an extensive report on their predicament in November 2014, stressing the danger they have been in since the Greek team’s departure and interviewing their com- manding officer, Major Evangelos Salabasis, who reiterated their fears.
On January 16, 2015, the Hellenic Armed Forces General Staff (GEETHA) announced that on the orders of then defense minister Nikos Dendias and on the recommendation of ex-GEETHA chief Michail Kostarakos, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had received a list of the interpreters who had worked for the Greek armed forces in Afghanistan as well as their family members so that they could be issued with visas and the process could be started to bring them to Greece.
In the months that followed, the ministry started issuing papers for a total of 27 people (the five interpreters as well as two more Afghans who worked with the Greek armed forces and their families), who had the medical checkup required for their admission to Greece. Some of them even sold their belongings to raise cash for the move. The process was carried out in cooperation with the Greek Embassy in Pakistan and GEETHA, which offered to cover part of the cost for passports for those who couldn’t afford them. The biometric passports were issued and the 27 Afghans have been waiting since April to get the green light from the Foreign Ministry to pick up their visas in Pakistan.
According to GEETHA, the Foreign Ministry asked for a new list of the names in April because the previous one did not match another list in the ministry’s possession. The list was reviewed and the matter has since been in the hands of the ministry. Kathimerini tried to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comments both in April and recently, but has received no response.
According to the UNHCR, over 77,000 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe in the first half of 2015. In the same period in 2014, the applications came to 24,000. And as violence continues to spread across the Middle East and Afghanistan, thousands more are trying to make the long journey to Europe.
Rameen hopes he will not have to resort to the usual routes of undocumented migrants. “We are still optimistic that one day the Greek government will remember us and will, like other European countries, give its [Afghan] associates visas.”
Rameen (right, in civilian clothes) is seen at left with Greek and Iraqi officers during a training session in Kabul in April 2010. At right, Wais, seen in a photograph from 2014, was recently injured in a blast in the Afghan capital.