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Afghanistan: ‘I can’t control my tears’ – The Afghan interpreters left behind by Spain | International

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Malik is shut away inside the apartment that he has rented in Kabul with his siblings, his wife and their three children. He admits that he does not know what to do. “I’m confused. I’m in a situation where I don’t know how it’s going to end,” he explains to EL PAÍS anxiously via WhatsApp, after receiving the news a week ago that Spain was bringing its evacuation operation in Afghanistan to an end. The former interpreter for the Spanish armed forces was traveling to and from the airport in Kabul in an attempt to board one of the flights leaving the capital. He never managed it, and was left waiting outside the airfield for whole evenings and nights. “We want to leave Afghanistan because it isn’t a safe place for us and we can’t expect a better future here,” he says.

On Monday, the Spanish secretary of state for foreign and global affairs got in touch with these former collaborators to assure them that they were still studying how to get them out of the country. That has given Malik certain hope, but he is still very stressed. His only solution, for now, is to wait for a call or an email that brings his odyssey to an end. “I’m scared that they will leave me here again,” he confesses. Until Thursday, none of the former collaborators contacted by EL PAÍS had received more news.

Malik worked with the Spanish armed forces between 2010 and 2012. On August 21, he and his family caught a bus from his province, Nimruz, and traveled the more than 700 kilometers to Kabul. He wasn’t carrying any documents with him for fear of the Taliban checkpoints. The journey was dangerous, but he opted to make it anyway, in the hope that he could get on a plane and leave his country behind.

He spent five days trying to get into the airport. His children, aged 10, six and three, slept on the floor on a pile of garbage, next to the Abbey Gate entrance, while Malik waited to see if anyone would let him in. They had no food or water. But going back was not an option. “I can’t control my tears,” he writes via text message.

Malik‘s children in a photo taken by him on one of the nights they slept outdoors at Kabul airport.
Malik‘s children in a photo taken by him on one of the nights they slept outdoors at Kabul airport.Malik

Frustration, exhaustion and the state of his children forced him to return home. It was 12pm local time, and just an hour later a terrorist attack at the airport killed 183 people. “I have seen the video of the explosion,” he explains. “It’s the same place where we were the night before. I’m in shock.”

The risk of another attack was of great concern to Malik. Because of this, on August 27 – the last day of the Spanish operation to evacuate former collaborators and their families, as well as diplomatic and security staff – he tried to return to the airport alone. “All of the streets were blocked,” he explains. “They didn’t let anyone enter. I came home.”

Malik and another few dozen former collaborators have created a WhatsApp group to discuss their situation and to contact the Spanish authorities. They are unsure whether they will be able to leave the country. “For now, I will wait here,” he explains. Returning to his province will be dangerous, but neither is it safe to stay in Kabul.

While the mission is officially over, after the evacuation by Spain of 2,206 people, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, have insisted in recent days that Spain will continue with a “discrete task” to continue to help its collaborators to get out.

Like Malik, Rashid was also unable to get out on one of the evacuation planes. The interpreter, who worked for seven years with the AECID Spanish international cooperation agency, explains via messages that they were left behind. “I presented all of my documents at the Spanish embassy and I received a letter for the evacuation of my family and me. I was there for five days and nights, but because of the crowds and the shots fired near the airport I couldn’t enter to take my flight,” he explains, sending a copy of the document from the Foreign Ministry with his name and those of his wife, daughter, two sons, sister-in-law and nephew.

I was there for five days and nights, but because of the crowds and the shots fired near the airport I couldn’t enter to take my flight

Rashid, who worked for seven years with the AECID Spanish international cooperation agency

“I called out three times to the Spanish military coordinator, showing my certificate, and he told me that he was sorry, but that we had to wait because first the military interpreters had to be evacuated and then they would start with the civilians,” he explains. This 35-year-old Afghan and his family are in danger not just because they cooperated with the Spanish authorities, but also because of the work of his sister-in-law, who is a former member of parliament. “We are in the worst situation in Kabul and the last flight has gone. Please help me, what should I do?” he asks.

That same day, Ahmed was waiting in the same area. He was an interpreter for the Spanish armed forces in 2010 and 2011, and now he is hiding along with his wife and four children. “I’m not living in just one place, I’m living in different areas. I can’t live in just one place,” he explains. He recounts the horrors that he saw after the attack by the so-called Islamic State at the airport. “I saw the smoke and I approached,” he says. “I saw that there were people who were still alive and the injured on the ground. There were women and the children were crying. I decided to leave,” explains the translator, who studied Spanish at Kabul University. The day after he stayed away, given there was another bomb threat.

Adel has also stayed away from the airport. This interpreter and civil servant at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Afghanistan worked for the Spanish forces in Badghis and Herat. He still cannot believe that the evacuation has come to an end. “I don’t know what to do,” he writes. He spent five days outside the airport in the hope that he could board one of the plans with his wife and three children. He had the documents, but he never managed to get inside. “I’m very concerned,” he says. “I want to live in Spain and serve in Spain, I’ve spent enough time in Afghanistan already.”

English version by Simon Hunter.



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Ten women and girls killed every day in Mexico, Amnesty report says | Global development

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At least 10 women and girls are murdered every day in Mexico, according to a new report that says victims’ families are often left to carry out their own homicide investigations.

The scathing report, released on Monday by Amnesty International, documents both the scale of the violence and the disturbing lack of interest on the part of Mexican authorities to prevent or solve the murders.

“Mexico is continuing to fail to fulfil its duty to investigate and, therefore, its duty to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity of the victims as well as to prevent violence against women,” says the report, Justice on Trial.

“Feminicidal violence and the failings in investigation and prevention in northern Mexico are not anecdotal, but rather form part of a broader reality in the country,” the report adds.

Femicide has been rife in Mexico for decades – most notoriously in an epidemic of murders which claimed the life of some 400 women in the border city Ciudad Juárez during the 1990s. In recent years, a growing feminist movement has held massive street protests against the violence, but authorities have proved unwilling to take action to stop the killing.

“It’s always a question of political will,” said Maricruz Ocampo, a women’s activist in the state of Querétaro.

Ocampo has been part of teams lobbying state governors to issue an alert when femicides reach scandalously high levels – a move to raise awareness and mobilise resources. But officials often resist such moves, she said, as governors worry about their states’ images and investment.

“They refuse to recognise there is a problem,” she said.

The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has also downplayed the problem. He branded the women protesting on 8 March, International Women’s Day, as “conservatives” and alleged a dark hand manipulating the demonstrations.

When asked last year about rising violence against women, he responded, “Tell all the women of Mexico that they are protected and represented, that we’re doing everything possible to guarantee peace and quiet and that I understand that our adversaries are looking for ways to confront us.”

Mexico recorded the murders of 3,723 women in 2020. Some 940 of those murders were investigated as femicides.

The Amnesty report focused on Mexico state, a vast collection of gritty suburbs surrounding Mexico City on three sides. It has become notorious for femicides over the past decade – and for the way the former president, Enrique Peña Nieto, a former Mexico state governor, ignored the problem.

The report found cases of families carrying out their own detective work, which were ignored by investigators. In many cases, authorities contaminated crime scenes or mishandled evidence. They often did not even pursue leads such as geolocation information from victims’ mobile phones.

In the case of Julia Sosa, whose children believe she was killed by her partner, two daughters found her body buried on the suspect’s property – but had to wait hours for police to arrive and process the crime scene. One of her daughters recalled the subsequent interview process, in which “the police officer was falling asleep”.

Sosa’s partner hanged himself, prompting police to close the case, even though family members said there were more leads to pursue.

In states rife with drug cartel violence, activists say cases of femicides go uninvestigated as impunity is commonplace.

“The authorities say it’s organised crime and that’s it,” said Yolotzin Jaimes, a women’s rights campaigner in the southern state of Guerrero. “Many of these aggressors find protection under the excuse of organised crime.”

The persistence of femicides is a stark contrast to recent gains by the women’s movement in Mexico. The country’s supreme court decriminalised abortion earlier this month. A new congress recently sworn in has gender parity and seven female governors will be installed by the end of year – up from just two before last June’s election’s

The decriminalisation of abortion “let off some steam” from the pressure driving the protests “because part of the demands was over the right to choose,” Ocampo said. “But when it comes to violence, we still see it everywhere.”

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US official urges EU to speed up enlargement

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Gabriel Escobar, the US’ newly-appointed acting deputy secretary of state for South Central Europe, has urged Europe to speed up Western Balkans enlargement. “To return 20 years later and see that there hasn’t been much progress on that front was a little disappointing,” he told the RFE/RL news agency Friday, referring to his last post in Europe in 2001. “We would like to see a more rapid integration,” he said.

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Climate crisis leaving ‘millions at risk of trafficking and slavery’ | Global development

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Millions of people forced to leave their homes because of severe drought and powerful cyclones are at risk of modern slavery and human trafficking over the coming decades, a new report warns.

The climate crisis and the increasing frequency of extreme weather disasters including floods, droughts and megafires are having a devastating effect on the livelihoods of people already living in poverty and making them more vulnerable to slavery, according to the report, published today.

Researchers from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Anti-Slavery International found that drought in northern Ghana had led young men and women to migrate to major cities. Many women begin working as porters and are at risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation and debt bondage – a form of modern slavery in which workers are trapped in work and exploited to pay off a huge debt.

Boys at lathes turning aluminium pots
Children working in an aluminium pot factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Up to 85 million children work in hazardous jobs around the world. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty

One woman, who migrated to Accra from northern Ghana, used to farm until the land was ruined by flooding and she was forced to move. For seven years she has worked as a porter (kayayie), carrying items on her head.

She said: “Working as a kayayie has not been easy for me. When I came here, I did not know anything about the work. I was told that the woman providing our pans will also feed us and give us accommodation. However, all my earnings go to her and only sometimes will she give me a small part of the money I’ve earned.”

She dropped a customer’s items once and had to pay for the damage, which she could not afford. The woman in charge paid up on condition that she repay her. She added: “I have been working endlessly and have not been able to repay.”

A woman from Bangladesh
A woman from the Sundarbans in Bangladesh, who moved to Kolkata after a cyclone to support her family. Now she cannot return to home without her employer’s permission. Photograph: Somnath Hazra

In the Sundarbans, on the border between India and Bangladesh, severe cyclones have caused flooding in the delta, reducing the land available for farming. With countries in the region tightening immigration restrictions, researchers found that smugglers and traffickers operating in the disaster-prone region were targeting widows and men desperate to cross the border to India to find employment and income. Trafficking victims were often forced into hard labour and prostitution, with some working in sweatshops along the border.

Fran Witt, a climate change and modern slavery adviser at Anti-Slavery International, said: “Our research shows the domino effect of climate change on millions of people’s lives. Extreme weather events contribute to environmental destruction, forcing people to leave their homes and leaving them vulnerable to trafficking, exploitation and slavery.”

The World Bank estimates that, by 2050, the impact of the climate crisis, such as poor crop yields, a lack of water and rising sea levels, will force more than 216 million people across six regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America, from their homes.

The report is a stark warning to world leaders in advance of the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow in November and calls on them to make sure efforts to address the climate emergency also tackle modern slavery. The report says labour and migrant rights abuses are disregardedin the interests of rapid economic growth and development.

Ritu Bharadwaj, a researcher for the IIED, said: “The world cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking that’s being fuelled by climate change. Addressing these issues needs to be part and parcel of global plans to tackle climate change.”

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