Afghan interpreters and translators who helped Lithuanian troops will be provided asylum after they received threats from the Taliban, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Thursday.
"I spoke with the national defence minister yesterday and we agreed that we will provide asylum to these people. I believe it’s a right and responsible decision," the minister told reporters.
"They are people who, I have no doubt, can find employment and be engaged in economic activity in Lithuania. In our opinion, they are facing threats over their cooperation with the [NATO] alliance," Landsbergis said.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė says helping the interpreters is Lithuania's "matter of honour".
"These are people who helped our forces, and if there's a certain word given, then it's a matter of honour for the state to keep it. I believe our responsible institutions, including the foreign and defence ministries, will definitely resolve this issue," she said, adding every person's specific situation will have to be considered.
"I have no right to grant asylum, we need to look into the specific situation. But people under political persecution have a slightly different status from those who just don’t like the economic life in their countries," the prime minister said.
Earlier this week, 12 interpreters and translators from Afghanistan's Ghor province, who helped Lithuanian troops, sent a letter to the Lithuanian president, prime minister, as well as the defence and interior ministers, asking for help.
They say they helped troops to communicate with local residents and Afghanistan institutions, and also took part in military operations against Taliban fighters in 2005–2013, and they are now receiving threats because of their prior cooperation.
"We also received many threats from the Taliban insurgents. The Lithuanian Military was aware of the threats because we reported them to the PRT intelligence on a regular basis," the Afghan interpreters and translators state in their letter seen by BNS.
They say once Lithuania’s mission in the Ghor province was completed, threats intensified. Therefore, all the former interpreters were forced to move to other provinces in Afghanistan.
Three interpreters have recently travelled to Europe illegally because of the threats they faced. Others are not able to travel to Europe because of poor economic conditions.
"Now the situation is much worse in Afghanistan with the recent announcement of US/NATO troops withdrawal,” the letter reads. “The Taliban might take over more control of Afghanistan territory and the interpreters as former collaborators with the ‘occupational armed forces’ are the first target for them.”
"This is the matter of life and death for former Lithuanian armed forces interpreters. The US/NATO troops will leave Afghanistan approximately in two months,” they say, adding that this is how much time they have to “save our lives”.
The Lithuanian military took part in the reconstruction efforts in Ghor, the central Afghan province, from 2005 until 2013. Several dozen troops remain deployed in Afghanistan, but will be withdrawn together with the rest of the international force.