Afghanistan: are we forgetting someone?

(To Lieta Zanatta)

"That's not fair. Please don't leave us alone after twenty years of collaboration. We didn't leave you alone when you needed help. Please don't forget us."

The heartfelt appeal stands on a banner with two Italian flags on each side in front of the building of the governor of Herat in Afghanistan on June 9th. Some of the Afghan collaborators who have worked for many years with the soldiers of the Italian contingent in the military base of the city, Camp Arena, are carrying it.

They protest because they applied for asylum to come to Italy but they still don't know anything and they are afraid for their lives.

"Since the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan was announced, the Taliban have attacked and taken most areas of Afghanistan. They will take the city and look for the people who worked with NATO and they will punish them, they will kill them! " - says IA who since 2009 has worked in the markets that took place inside the base. He is very worried as are his colleagues, about eighty people including shopkeepers, workers and collaborators in various capacities, who still in May applied for asylum to our base commando in order to come to Italy. But they still haven't received a response. They ask for help from anyone who can give it because they see those who have worked as interpreters leave for our country, together with their families, while they don't know what will become of them. And that makes them panic.

Even more so is the fact that they have just learned that only seventeen of them - at the moment - have had their asylum applications approved. "Why hasn't the request been granted to us too? So many of us have worked for you for eight, ten, fifteen years and more. Why don't you give us an answer yet?"

They are scared. You hear from their anguished tone, they say and write to be afraid, to fear for their life and that of their children. "When the Italian troops leave Herat, we would be threatened for having worked on it and we could lose our lives. I have worked with you for 12 years and have done my job honestly" - says NA several times in English and Italian to make sure he made himself understood.

"The security situation is getting worse every day. We are afraid, both day and night, and when we have to go out to go to the market we wear simple clothes and anti-Covid masks" - adds MA

An indication of the fate of the interpreters and collaborators in various capacities has already been given by the Minister of Defense Lorenzo Guerini, who flew to Herat on 4 June for the ceremony of the Italian flag for the official closure of the base. Although the divestment operations are still ongoing and should be completed by the end of this month and beginning of next.

"Let us not abandon the Afghan civilian personnel who collaborated with our contingent in Herat and their families: 270 have already been identified and another 400 are being investigated. They will be transferred to Italy from mid-June- said the minister on that occasion.

But this reassurance is not enough to give them the patience to wait or rather, the certainty that the asylum request has been accepted. Almost all of them submitted the application again in May and for reassurance some of them also wrote to the Italian embassy. But they can't get any answers. "Since May 31st they no longer reply to our e-mails, as if the address of the Italian embassy no longer exists" - says AA, who has worked at Camp Arena since 2010. He is a high school graduate, his wife has a degree, and over the years he has carried out various duties. It has been used in the shop, in the so-called PX shops and in logistics.

"We can't even contact the embassy by phone" - NA retorts exasperatedly, who has worked on the base since 2005.

It must be said that for many of them, work stopped last year, with the epidemic that began in March 2020, which led to the closure of all activities and markets within the base, leaving only those essential. But for them it was a real blow. At home, with no salaries or income to live with, with the anguish of being pointed out as collaborators of Westerners once the troops leave forever this land that has not known peace since 1979. And without knowing what will happen to them.

"Germany, France, Great Britain and the United States have already given asylum to their employees and collaborators. Why doesn't Italy let us know anything?" - they ask heartfelt in unison.

To amplify the terror in which these people live, are the news of the Taliban arriving in the city.

"Ever since the news broke that NATO troops have decided to leave Afghanistan, there has been a rapid escalation of the situation here, which is getting worse every day. - says YA - Every day there are districts that are taken, occupied by the Taliban. Even here in Herat the situation is very bad. We cannot walk around the city safely and we cannot leave our homes after 8pm. "

The news that comes continuously is alarming. "The Taliban raised their flags in Islam Qala, about a hundred kilometers from Herat towards the western border with Iran, but they also arrived at the Salma dam west of Herat" says NA News also reported by local TVs, which state that 700 insurgent units would be around the dam, ready to take possession of it as a strategic point. There are also reports of people fleeing the Zinda Jan district, about thirty kilometers west of Herat. There, on a road near the river, an important hub, the insurgents set up a roadblock. They ask people for documents and take away those who are of the Tajik ethnicity. They disappear, they are no longer seen.

But some of the insurgents are also seen in the city. "Sometimes they can be seen on the street, as they travel along it on a moped" - adds AA "In the village where my family lives, outside Herat, they have already turned up to demand money."

Of this eighty or so people waiting for an answer to come to Italy, many are specialized, high school or university graduates.

These are qualified personnel who have worked hard for our Armed Forces. Many have certificates and letters of appreciation in their hands, recognition for the excellent work done and for having been of faithful support, by the carabinieri and the PRT, the Provincial Reconstruction Team which until 2014 was involved in civil and military cooperation projects in the region.

"If they know that we have collaborated with you Italians, the Taliban will be proud to kill us - says IA again - Please don't forget us and save our lives and those of our children. We ask you not to forget us ".

Photo: author