French President Francois Hollande holds a press ocnference at the conclusion of the NATO 2012 Summit in Chicago on May 21, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ERIC FEFERBERG
French President Francois Hollande (above) speaks during a press conference in this file photo.President Francois Hollande had personally taken the decision, doubling the number initially envisaged, it reported. A decision had been on the back burner for months. – AFP (File Photo)

PARIS: France will take in Afghans whose security is at risk after having worked with its troops in the war-ravaged country, joining other Western nations facing a similar quandary.

France flew its last combat troops out of Afghanistan on December 15, two years before allied nations in the 100,000-strong Nato mission led by the United States are due to recall their fighting forces.

The defence ministry confirmed on Wednesday that France, which had soldiers in Afghanistan for 11 years, would accept “a few dozen” Afghans who had served as translators with their forces.

The same day, French daily Le Monde had reported that up to 170 Afghans would be “allowed to enter French territory from January to start a new life.”

President Francois Hollande had personally taken the decision, doubling the number initially envisaged, it reported. A decision had been on the back burner for months.

Le Monde said the criteria for choosing them would be two-fold: whether they faced a security threat after the pullout of Nato-led foreign troops; and their ability to integrate into mainstream French society.

In the past, French military officials took the line that rather than emigrating to the West, Afghans should remain at home to help with the post-conflict reconstruction.

The United States, which currently has 60,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, has since 2007 taken in 436 Afghan translators and their families.

A total of 534 other Afghans, all former employees of the US forces, were also welcomed under a special visa scheme.

Canada, which had nearly 3,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, opened its doors to 800 people who worked with its troops and diplomats.

Britain's Foreign Office said it only relocated Afghans to Britain in “exceptional cases”, though it said it would not abandon those who had put their lives on the line by serving with British forces.

In a recent case, 25-year-old Mohammad Rafi Hottak, who worked as an interpreter for the British military in Afghanistan for five years, was granted asylum -- but only after a campaign by The Times.

Hottak had received death threats before fleeing to Britain in July 2011, leaving behind his wife who was pregnant with their third child.

And it emerged this month that three other Afghan men had written to Britain's Foreign Office and its defence ministry arguing they should be given the same rights to settle in Britain, as interpreters who worked during the conflict in Iraq.

Britain has let in some 360 Iraqi translators and their families. “Given the exceptionally difficult environment, many other locally engaged staff working for the UK Government in Afghanistan are similarly at risk,”lawyers acting for the men argued in a letter to the government.

Germany has said it will take decisions on a case-by-case basis, stressing that only people “facing real danger” back home would be accepted, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

For some experts, the spate of asylum bids is further evidence that the Western intervention in Afghanistan has failed to defeat the Taliban, both in political and military terms.

AFP 280116 GMT DEC 12


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