Germany to refugees: ‘Leaving Afghanistan? Think again’

Critics say embassy’s campaign will do little to deter would-be refugees determined to make perilous journey to Germany.

Afghan billboards
The billboard erected in Kabul reads 'Leaving Afghanistan? Are you sure?' in Dari and Pashto, the two main languages of Afghanistan [Fatima Faizi/Al Jazeera]

As a result of the persistent influx of Afghan refugees into Germany, a new campaign has been launched asking potential refugees to think twice before they embark on their perilous journeys. 

The German embassy in Afghanistan started the campaign in Kabul and other major cities last week highlighting the dangers involved in undertaking risky journeys to Europe. 

Billboards in the streets pose questions like, “Leaving Afghanistan? Are you sure?” and “Leaving Afghanistan? Think about it again”, in the country’s two main languages, Pashto and Dari.

But critics say the campaign is expected to do little to deter Afghans determined to leave in search of safety and protection.

“I know we cannot trust human traffickers who promise us an easy trip and a better life in Germany, but I will still take the risk. My family is not safe here. I am not safe,” Basir Karimi, a 22-year-old belonging to the Hazara minority, told Al Jazeera. 

“In Afghanistan, I can say at least for us [Hazara] it is hell. We can’t even travel easily and are scared about being kidnapped, then slaughtered like animals. This has happened before and recently as well.”

RELATED: Afghans protest ‘beheading of ethnic Hazara by ISIL’

The Hazara community has long suffered oppression and persecution in Afghanistan. During the 1990s, thousands were killed by al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. 

Earlier this month, seven Hazara were found dead in Zabul province after being abducted in neighbouring Ghazni up to six months earlier. The group, including a child, were beheaded with razor wire. 


The German campaign uses a hashtag, #RumoursAboutGermany, encouraging Afghans on Twitter to stay back. 

Bleak prospects prompt flight from Afghanistan

“Germany [is] not withdrawing support for Afghanistan. New disaster prevention projects [underway],” said one of the tweets under @GermanyinAFG account which is the official Twitter account of the German embassy in Kabul. 

Thomas Ruttig, a German researcher based in Kabul and the co-director of the Afghan Analysts Network, said the campaign aims to deflate rumours about Europe circulating among would-be refugees. 

“The German government tries to undermine rumours that all refugees will automatically find a better life in Germany through this campaign. The Afghans need to know this [is not true],” Ruttig told Al Jazeera. 

“However, many Afghans who are determined might still go anyway, regardless of this campaign. It’s a hostile situation here, security-wise and economically.”

‘Bad communication’

According to Andi Wilmers, who has worked in local media organisations in Kabul since 2008, the campaign is not strong enough for locals to understand the message.

“Two or three lines on a billboard? And asking questions whether they want to leave or not? This is bad communication,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Then it gives a website address at the bottom. Not many people in Afghanistan have access to internet here. This message can be easily misinterpreted.”

The campaign has also been criticised by Human Rights Watch, which said it was a “terrible idea”.

“It is a kind of campaign that puts those people off going to Europe who might have very good reasons to migrate,” Wenzel Michalski, Germany director for Human Right Watch, told Al Jazeera.


“We know there are many reasons why people flee Afghanistan. They have all the right to apply to be asylum seekers and you can’t stop them, especially this way.”

RELATED: Refugees sew lips in Greece-Macedonia border protest

In an interview with a state-run broadcaster, however, Markus Potzel, Germany’s ambassador to Afghanistan, said that “the campaign is not aimed at deterring Afghans from coming to Europe, but rather at informing potential migrants of the risks involved in fleeing and illegal migration.

“We want to tell them: Do not believe any rumours or deliberately spread false information about the supposedly simple life in Germany,” he told Deutsche Welle.

“Think twice about whether you really want to sell all of your possessions to pay criminal smugglers and risk your life on the journey.” 

Deaths in the Mediterranean

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), around 80,000 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe in the first half of 2015 – a three-fold increase from the year before, when the number was 24,000.

The UNHCR has reported that over 520,000 asylum seekers have reached Europe by sea this year. It has been a year defined by deaths in the Mediterranean, including children, with close to 3,000 people dying or still missing.

Afghans face uncertain future in wary Europe

Karimi, the Hazara, fears for his future whether in Afghanistan or abroad.

“I know they are concerned about refugees flooding into Europe from different countries to escape war and conflict,” he said.

“I don’t know whether I will be accepted in Germany and given an opportunity to build my future. We are people with the most insecure feelings.”

Mohammed Rafique, a 26-year-old from Nangarhar province, is worried about the Taliban increasing their hold in the area and believes that living in Europe will at least land him a job “in a safe environment”.

“I am worried for my life every single day living here. I want to take up the risk to travel to Germany because once I cross and settle, I won’t have to worry again, ever,” Rafique told Al Jazeera.

“I know we are not wanted there, but what other option do we have?”

The Afghan government, which has struggled to handle thousands of internally displaced people, has asked Germany “not to repatriate Afghans who are not granted asylum”.

“It is my hope as a German citizen that my government continues to decide on a case-by-case basis and not take the position that the Afghans need to go home as the war is over … this is not the case, the war is not over,” Ruttig of the Afghan Analysts Network told Al Jazeera.

“And refugees from war are entitled to protection.” 

Follow Shereena Qazi on Twitter: @ShereenaQazi

Additional reporting by Maryam Mehtar in Kabul