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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks about current developments in Afghanistan at a news conference in the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Aug. 16, 2021.Odd Anderson/AFP/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany and the rest of the world misjudged the situation in Afghanistan, and that Western countries need to provide aid to avoid a refugee crisis.

“We have all, and I also take responsibility for this, misjudged the situation ... Things have accelerated, the Afghan army has offered no resistance, for whatever reason – or little resistance. We had a wrong assessment of the situation, and that is not just a wrong German assessment, but it is widespread,” Ms. Merkel told reporters Monday night.

She said Western countries should not make the same mistake they made in the past, when they did not give enough funding support to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees during other crises. That lack of aid, she said, resulted in people leaving refugee settlements in Jordan and Lebanon for Europe. In 2015, more than one million refugees came to Germany, primarily from Syria, but also from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Countries bordering Afghanistan could see similar exoduses if they aren’t sufficiently funded, she warned. “We need to make sure that the many people who have big worries and concerns, even though they have not worked with German institutions, have a secure stay in countries neighbouring Afghanistan,” she said.

Ms. Merkel said that, of the 2,500 people who worked directly for the German military and police in Afghanistan, 1,900 are already in Germany and some are believed to have fled to other countries.

She made her comments just one day after the Taliban captured Kabul. Images circulating on social media showed desperate Afghans at the city’s airport clinging to planes and swarming the tarmac in attempts to escape the country.

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Ms. Merkel described the situation unfolding in Afghanistan as “bitter, dramatic and awful.” She said it is particularly bitter for the millions of Afghans who supported a more liberal society, and who relied on support from Western countries for democracy, education and women’s rights.

The Taliban’s sweep to power was also bitter, she said, for Germany and allied countries that followed the United States and NATO’s lead in the fight against terrorism for two decades after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Ms. Merkel said an analysis was needed of what went wrong and lessons to be learned for future military engagement.

Germany and other European countries decided last week to stop deporting migrants back to Afghanistan.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said last week that those who have no right of residence must eventually leave Germany, but not while their lives are threatened in their home countries. “A constitutional state also bears responsibility for ensuring that deportations do not become a danger for those involved,” he said.

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An Afghan refugee who worked as an interpreter aiding the U.S. military in Afghanistan said that he was facing deportation from Germany until a few days ago.

Amin, who said he does not have a last name, told The Globe he fled Afghanistan in 2018, fearing the Taliban, which was active in his village. He travelled to Germany, where he thought he would be welcomed, particularly because of his work for allied forces. But instead his asylum claim was rejected and he has been on the country’s deportation list ever since. He said his lawyer has appealed the decision multiple times.

“I was always afraid that they might stop me and put me back on a plane,” he said. Still, he said, without having his case approved, he feels he does not have a bright future in Germany.

The policy change has been welcomed by advocates who have been pushing to end deportations for years, but some have said it came much too late.

Wiebke Judith, a legal policy adviser on German and European asylum law at PRO ASYL, a Frankfurt-based advocacy organization that provides support to refugees and their families, said the decision was long overdue – especially after NATO troops, including German troops, pulled out from Afghanistan.

“The German government has closed their eyes for far too long to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. This showed itself first in the desperate attempt to still undertake deportation flights at a moment where the Taliban already took more and more towns, and now again in the evacuation process that started way too late. Shortly before German elections, this is a political disaster,” she said.

Ms. Judith said the policy change gives more clarity and security to Afghan people living in Germany, who have been frightened.

European Union member countries had been arguing until recently that deportations to Afghanistan must go on. The interior ministers of Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece and the Netherlands urged the European Union’s executive branch, in a letter dated Aug. 5, to “intensify talks” with the Afghan government to ensure deportations would continue.

“Stopping returns sends the wrong signal and is likely to motivate even more Afghan citizens to leave their home for the EU,” the ministers wrote to the European Commission.

Amin said his lawyer is again appealing his case, and they are waiting for a response. Meanwhile, he said he’s worried about his two younger brothers, who are still in Afghanistan.

“My brothers … they’re young. I’m telling them Taliban does not let you wear jeans, you shouldn’t do some kind of hairstyle … don’t do things that might get you hurt.”

With reports from The Associated Press and Reuters

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