Monday, September 20

Afghan interpreter of the Spanish Army and trapped in Turkey: when leaving Kabul does not save you

Thanks to his uncle, Ebrahim studied Spanish Language and Literature at the University of Kabul. When Ebrahim was little, he showed him the objects he collected from Spain, Argentina, Cuba. Due to the influence that the Communist Party had in Afghanistan, in the 70s, Cuban culture reached the Asian country with ease: books, music and many stories told in Spanish ended up fascinating the child. Once he took him to the cinema to see a movie in Spanish … and he couldn’t stop.

End of international evacuations leaves tens of thousands of people behind

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“When I got to university I looked for Spanish in the Department of Languages. I already knew the culture and the country, even though I had never been there,” says Ebrahim Satary, one of the Afghan interpreters who have not yet managed to reach Spain , despite the fact that his name was on the lists of citizens who had to be evacuated from the country before August 31. Now he waits in Turkey, together with his family, to receive authorization to travel to Madrid. But there his situation hangs by a thread: They risk being deported and sent back to Afghanistan if their paperwork is not resolved soon.

A decade at the service of Spain

Among the few belongings Ebrahim has taken from Afghanistan, photographs are the most treasured mementos he clings to. Along with the photos of your wedding and your family, there is a different one. The interpreter poses with José Bono and other Afghan translators. The former defense minister puts his arm around her shoulder and everyone smiles at the camera. It is from 2005. At that time, Ebrahim was only 24 years old, but he had already added two, assisting the Spanish Army as a translator.

He began working with the Armed Forces in 2003, when he was still a student. The Spanish Department of his university had an agreement with the Ministry of Defense of Spain. Interpreters were hired from the faculty itself. Months later, the Yak-42 accident occurred in the first unit where he was assigned. Some of the soldiers with whom he worked side by side died in the plane crash when they were returning to Spain. A hard baptism, and a difficult memory, in his career as a translator.

He continued to work with the Spanish soldiers, on mission after mission. He worked in Kabul, Herat and Badghis (one of the most dangerous provinces, constantly besieged by the Taliban). Until 2011, Ebrahim risked his life for a country that was not his, in which he had never been, but to which he felt united through the people he met over time.

“Today I have almost as many Spanish friends as Afghans,” he says almost a decade later.

In crops of nobody

In June, after the United States announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan, a group of former interpreters of the Spanish Army, including Ebrahim, addressed a joint letter to the Spanish Embassy in Kabul. They were applying for asylum. The answer did not arrive and, before the already unstoppable Taliban advance, the interpreter decided to remove his family from the country. “The security situation was deteriorating at times,” he recalls.

After endless efforts, on July 8 they managed to reach Turkey. They traveled on a tourist visa. He, his wife Khaleda, and their children Belal, Sultana, and Arash (ages 14, nine, and four). Their idea was to continue the asylum application procedures in Spain from a place where, they believed, would be safe while they waited.

At the end of August, he was informed that his name was on the list of Afghan citizens who were to be evacuated from Kabul airport on Spanish flights. But neither he nor his family were in Kabul anymore.

Amid the chaos of the evacuations, Ebrahim informed the Foreign Ministry that he was in Ankara, and asked for instructions on what to do. They told him that he should take the relevant documentation to the Spanish Embassy in Turkey, and wait. Did. But that was more than a month ago. During this time, his tourist visa has expired and he has been left in an irregular situation.

No papers in Turkey

In Ankara, there are two other Afghan families in the same situation as Ebrahim’s: 13 people in total, six adults and seven children, who now face the fear of being deported and returned to Afghanistan. “One of the families has already received the deportation letter,” says Ebrahim by phone. “And I have been on the verge of being left without a house, because the landlord found out that we did not have papers, and he is afraid that we will not pay the rent.” He says that another of the families is separated from one of his children.

“At the Embassy they only tell us that they are waiting to receive authorization from Madrid to issue us the visa, and in the meantime the money is running out.” His voice sounds desperate. “We cannot work without papers; and our children cannot go to school, while they look sad as other children do.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, contacted by, refuses to provide information on this case. A crisis unit is handling the case of Ebrahim and that of the other families who find themselves in the same circumstances in countries such as Pakistan or Iran, as well as those that are still in Afghanistan. “It is a department of the Ministry that is in the structure of consulates, and its internal functioning, in order to be more efficient, is always usually discreet,” explains a spokesman for the Diplomatic Information Office.

Very discreetly, but without a firm date, Ebrahim Satary’s visa is still pending. “It cost me a lot of efforts to leave Afghanistan and get to Turkey,” he emphasizes, fearing that he will not be able to extend his stay in this country any longer. That was the hardest part of the evacuation.

When the Taliban seized Kabul on August 15 and international evacuations began, President Erdogan was quick to say that he was unwilling to have Turkey become “Europe’s refugee warehouse.” Right after, he sent troops to the border to shield the land crossings. Its objective was to avoid the repetition of the arrival of people fleeing war and persecution, as has already happened with the conflict in Syria. On that occasion, the country welcomed more than four million refugees. It does not appear that the Eurasian state is willing to do it again.

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