Hel­lenic Army’s Afghan in­ter­preters left to their fate, still wait­ing for visas four years on

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY FILIO P. KONTRAFOURI

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.

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