France: "We can advise IFJ members who want to help Afghan journalists”

Karine Barzegar is a journalist and member of the National Bureau of the National Union of Journalists (SNJ) in France. Since mid-August 2021, she, and a team from the SNJ have been helping Afghan journalists at risk who are trying to flee their country. She tells us about the mobilisation of her union, the challenges they face, but also about her greatest pride and ways to help our Afghan colleagues.

Syndicat national des journalistes team - SNJ

1. The SNJ has been very involved in helping Afghan journalists since the Taliban took power in August 2021. Could you describe the measures you have taken? 

We have drawn up precise lists of Afghan journalists who have contacted us. We added their personal details, the media they worked for, the risk factors they presented in relation to Taliban threats, the documents they had, the means of contact and whether they had acquaintances or relatives in Europe or in Western countries. It took us months to compile it, but we were able to send it to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the Working Group on Afghanistan that the French government had set up. 

From this first main list, we created a list of journalists linked to France, also sent to the ministry, a list of journalists in danger, and a list of journalists who had gradually left Afghanistan themselves to seek refuge in neighbouring countries (Pakistan, Iran, the Emirates, India, Turkey, etc.).

Today, we juggle 4 or 5 different lists that we update regularly according to the emails these journalists send us to tell us that they have changed their passport number, or that they have recovered their children's passports, or that they have left the country, etc.

In addition to these lists, we contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through meetings, we approached the media through press releases or open letters, we also organised a press conference with many other NGOs, associations and trade unions from other professions who had contacted us, we invited Afghan journalists to come to the SNJ congress last October, and we also lobbied and made appointments with MEPs in Strasbourg.

For this, we also created a lobby list with trade unions, magistrates' associations, artists' lawyers, etc. and we are still in contact with them. 


2. Your union is made up of volunteer journalists. How did you manage to cope with such a large request for help?

We did what we could. At the beginning there were about ten of us working on this project, but we did it in the time we had outside our work as journalists. We called all our members several times, not only our activists, but also trade unionists who are staff representatives in the companies and several people came to help us.

Now, after 8 months, the group is reduced to 5 or 6 people who mobilise outside their working hours. 
It is a big mental burden because we receive emails, WhatsApp, messages, tweets all the time and at all hours of the day and night. Our number is in circulation and people are in extremely difficult situations.

Reading their messages asking for help is very heavy psychologically, especially because we can't really help them beyond creating lists to advise them, tell them where to apply for a visa, provide useful addresses or send letters of support to embassies, for example. Today we are at a dead end, and we don't have any good news to give them about what they are going through, so it is extremely difficult.


3. Have you encountered any difficulties and, if so, at what level?

We have encountered difficulties in terms of human resources, in terms of listening to the French state (although the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been extremely attentive), in terms of evacuation from Afghanistan and in terms of visa applications. 

Another difficulty is the passage of Afghan women, who often do not have a passport to leave the country or do not have the possibility of leaving it by their own means. Sometimes they are single women, but they have a whole family to support, younger siblings or a mother and father, but they are not married and therefore cannot leave the country.

It is also extremely difficult to provide financial assistance to journalists in Afghanistan because the systems for transferring funds are extremely limited. 

Another difficulty is the violence perpetrated by the Taliban against Afghan journalists.


4. In particular, how do you help Afghan journalists once they arrive in France?

Our main role is to help journalists leave Afghanistan and to help them obtain visas when they are in neighbouring countries. We believe we are here to defend journalists, not to replace unions that help asylum seekers or unions that help housing or help the poor.


5. It is April 2022; how do you assess the support you have provided to Afghan colleagues? 

At present, we have more than 1000 journalists on our main list who are in the countries neighbouring Afghanistan, where they are facing great difficulties. We cannot be happy to see them leave the country until they are safe. 

Between 40 and 50 people have left the country and gone to Western countries, including France, and it is certainly a source of pride that we have been able to get a handful out, but it is still a pride that tries to overcome immense despair.

5. What has been your proudest achievement?

We are not necessarily positive about the work we have done, because we see that out of 1,000 or 1,100 journalists who were on our list, about forty or fifty live in Western countries. This is a derisory number, especially because at one point we had to block our list, so not everyone who contacted us from mid-October onwards was added to the list. 

It is important to know that there were dozens and dozens of print and radio media financed with European or American funds, and that this mass of journalists found themselves overnight in a situation of insane precariousness, either because they lost their jobs or because they didn't want to work. 

So clearly our record is very mixed, very, very poor, but our greatest pride is that we have done this work from mid-August until today. We will continue to do it, maybe to a lesser extent because we have less means and we see that we are at a dead end, but it is a great pride to do this work. 


6. What challenges lie ahead?

We have created lists of Afghan journalists who have links with countries other than France, such as Italy, Spain, Germany, Finland, Norway.  Other unions should also support them if they have not already done so.

We can inform them, but let each country do its part, let each journalists' union put pressure on the authorities in their country to react.


7. Any advice for IFJ members who want to help Afghan journalists?

We have the methodology, we know how to do it, we can advise IFJ members who want to help Afghan journalists. You just have to have the will to do it.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

Follow the IFJ on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Subscribe to IFJ News