Afghan interpreters for French army sue for visas

A French army officer with an Afghan officer in Uruzgan province in 2009
A French army officer with an Afghan officer in Uruzgan province in 2009 AFP

A group of Afghan interpreters is suing the French state for refusing them visas despite the alleged risk to their lives because they worked with France's army in the war against the Taliban.


Thirty-two interpreters who worked with the French army when it was in Afghanistan have filed cases with a court in the western city of Nantes, the only court in France to handle such cases according to their lawyer, Magali Guadalupe-Miranda.

About 20 others are set to file suit in the next few weeks.

"This is an unprecedented case," Guadalupe-Miranda told the AFP news agency, explaining that this is the first time that locally recruited personnel have sued the French state.

The case will be based on a 1983 law that obliges France to protect state employees and contractors who are subject to threats due to their responsibilities.

Targets for Taliban

Afghans who worked for the French armed forces are targets for the Taliban and other insurgent groups, according to an organisation they have formed to fight for asylum in France.

Of 252 visa applications, only 100 have been accepted, although when their families are added 371 people have been given the right to enter the country.

The interpreters' group wrote an open letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian last week, asking for a meeting and claiming that current policy "endangers several dozen auxiliaries".

Despite not having visas, 14 interpreters have left Afghanistan for Europe, "preferring the risks of a dangerous journey to the certainty of a future tragedy", the letter said.

Some are "blocked in terrible conditions outside the European Union", it added.

About 700 Afghans worked for the French armed forces between 2002 and their departure in 2014.

Two-thirds of the were mechanics, labourers or cleaners, the rest interpreters.

UK, US block interpreters' asylum

Interpreters who have worked for other countries involved in the war in Afghanistan have also faced difficulty in relocating.

In May an appeal court in Britain overturned a lower court's order to the government to stop deporting Afghans seeking asylum.

In the US a programme to resettle Afghan interpreters was blocked by Republican senators this summer, leading fellow Republican John McCain to accuse them of "signing the death warrants" of people who had risked their lives in the service of the US.

To read RFI's reports and analysis on Afghanistan click here

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