Czech government plans to help Afghan interpreters pursued by Taliban
The Czech Defence Ministry has developed a programme to help Afghan translators and other support staff who served with Czech troops in Afghanistan. The latest version of the programme is set to be put forward to the government at a special meeting on Friday. However, some civic initiatives and opposition politicians have been critical of what they see as slow progress.
Since the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan was announced in April of this year, the Taliban has been making rapid gains in territory across the country. NATO states, including the Czech Republic, are now facing the question of how they should help Afghans who worked with the coalition forces.
Earlier in July, Czech Defence Minister Lubomír Metnar announced that his ministry had prepared a rescue programme for Afghans who helped Czech troops. However, he did not wish to disclose more details, which he said needed to remain secret. According to the magazine Respekt,the plan counts on helping several dozen Afghans, mainly interpreters, who helped the Czech Army during its mission.
The programme was presented for discussion to the government on Monday, but returned to the Ministry of Defence, Mr Metnar told Czech Television earlier this week.
“The programme is ready and has been discussed by the government. We agreed that we now just have to finish up the formalities, which will be the subject of the nearest government meeting. We want to help them financially and, if there is interest, the programme also includes the option of offering asylum.”
Since then, the government has announced an extraordinary meeting will take place on Friday where the updates will be discussed. The meeting was scheduled for this week, in order to get the ball moving before the onset of the two-week-long holiday season that government officials get in August.
The announcement also came after criticism from several opposition politicians and civil society groups, who are not happy with the length of time it is taking to put the plan into action.
On Wednesday, an online petition called “Zachraňte tlumočníky” (Save the interpreters) was launched. Signed by several veterans, NGOs and public figures, including the former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee Petr Pavel, the petition warns that several Afghans who worked with the Czech Army are already calling for help, fearing retaliation on themselves and their families.
“It is our responsibility to save these people, to offer them asylum and support with their integration into Czech society. The only possible solution is to launch a transparent resettlement program immediately.”
Christian Democrat Deputy Jan Bartošek, who sits in the Defence Committee of the lower-house of Parliament, also called for action in a debate on Czech Television.
“Other countries are acting faster than us. Personally, I am planning on asking the government whether someone may have lost their life due to the slow progress in providing help.”
The United States is set to begin evacuations of Afghan interpreters during the last week of July. Meanwhile, Britain and Germany have passed measures to ease relocation from Afghanistan.
However, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has dismissed accusations of procrastination. He told Czech Radio that, unlike the huge numbers of support staff provided to the US Army, the Czech Army’s small contingent only used a few Afghans and that it is therefore not too late to organise their evacuation.
According to an unnamed source from the Czech security community quoted by news site Lidovky.cz, the programme counts on providing help for 20 to 30 persons, but it is uncertain whether they will accept settling in the Czech Republic which has virtually no local Afghan community. The support that is being considered includes financial compensation and diplomatic assistance with relocating to another country, according to the source.