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Afghan translator pins hope on Swedish asylum

Published: 06 Feb 2014 09:42 GMT+01:00

Slim and youthful-looking, Fahim speaks with The Local over a crackly Skype connection. While calm and collected, he says his family lives in a "traditional" neighbourhood where not everyone appreciates his four-year stint as an interpreter for the Swedish military.

"I have some fanatic neighbours who blamed me for working with foreigners. Even after I quit the job, I was often threatened directly and indirectly," says Fahim. 

He says his neighbours have spewed "propaganda" about his work for the Nato-led International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf), with residents in Mazar-e-Sharif seeing no differences between Swedish forces and, for example, US soldiers operating in the south.

Letters and calls telling Fahim to stop working with the Swedes have always been anonymous, meaning Fahim lives with the knowledge that the threats could come from anyone - a next-door-neighbour or someone tied more closely to local insurgents.

"I think my life is in danger if I stay here," says Fahim.

Despite Fahim's fears, the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) believes that internal migration in Afghanistan is possible for some people - men and families with an adult male, in particular those moving to the capital Kabul and other larger towns.

"One precondition, however, is that no one in the family has any disability or other medical problems," the analysis, updated on January 17th, stated.

Fahim does not think moving to another part of the country would be enough to protect him and his fiancée. Desperate to leave Afghanistan, Fahim has asked his former employers at Camp Northern Lights for help. The Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten) have confirmed that Fahim, which is not his real name, worked as an interpreter for them.

The young Afghan said that he was part of a group of 24 interpreters that last year implored Sweden to grant them asylum. Swedish migration law, however, states that an applicant must physically be in Sweden to submit his or her case. The translators' plea nonetheless received the backing of the military's Supreme Commander Sverker Göransson

Sweden's Armed Forces currently have just shy of 30 translators either in direct employ or subcontracted through the company Supreme. However, officials did not have an exact figure of how many translators its soldiers have worked with in Mazar-e-Sharif since leading operations there in 2006.

In December, the Migration Board announced it would grant asylum to an undisclosed number of Isaf interpreters. But Fahim was not one of them. His former colleagues were granted asylum as part of the UNHCR-managed refugee quota system, which Migration Board department head Oskar Eklund says is determined by the Swedish parliament. Neither his staff nor the Armed Forces have the power to alter the number of quota refugees.

"That is set by parliament, which means that ultimately the number is decided at the ballot box in September," Ekblad tells The Local.  "The interpreters were resettled as part of the 350 emergency resettlement quota we have at our disposal."

Could the quota refugee system, also referred to as resettlement, help Fahim?

"That tool still exists, and there is still a possibility to use that process," Ekblad explains. "But I can't comment on how we cooperate (with the Armed Forces) to use it."

Fahim says he spoke about his situation with Migration Board officials late last year and was told to wait. Ever since, Fahim has scoured both the Migration Board's and the Armed Forces' websites for more information, and last week made sure officers at Camp Northern Light communicated his predicament to headquarters in Stockholm. The Armed Forces tells The Local that it interviews its translators frequently to asses the threat level.

"When we make the judgment that we can not handle security for the individual, we take the necessary steps," an Armed Forces spokesman says. "We have an ongoing dialogue with the Migration Board to prepare these cases. But we do not comment on individual cases.

"We cannot today say how the threat (against them) will change once we leave Afghanistan."

Fahim doesn't think he would be out of danger if he left Mazar-e-Sharif to live elsewhere in the country.

"Even if I move to the capital or another province, I will not be safe," Fahim explains, noting that several of the missions he undertook with the Swedes took him to villages where insurgents, opposed both to foreign forces and the government of current President Hamid Karzai, were active.

"They recognize my face." 

This article was updated at 14.17pm on March 14th, 2014. The Migration Board granted asylum to an undisclosed number of interpreters in December 2013, not 30 translators as previously stated. 

Ann Törnkvist (ann.tornkvist@thelocal.com)

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