The dilemma of Afghan asylum seekers in Europe

Undocumented Afghans in Europe are given a choice of voluntarily returning to their country, or getting deported.

Amnesty called for a moratorium on Afghan returns until they can take place with "safety and dignity [File: Massoud Hossaini/AP]

Seven years ago, Qais Ahmadi left Afghanistan for Germany after his father was murdered by unknown assailants in eastern Afghanistan’s Laghman province.

His journey to Germany was not easy. He borrowed a few hundred dollars from his neighbours and friends and set off on a journey, part of which was on foot. He reached Iran first and from then on to Turkey, Greece, Norway and finally Germany.

“As I am the only son of my family. My mother forced me to leave Afghanistan as she was worried that I would get killed as my dad was,” Ahmadi, 30, told Al Jazeera.

READ MORE: Traumatised Afghan refugees fear deportation from EU

Ahmadi was deported from Munich in 2016 when he did not qualify for asylum.

“My heart was shattered when I heard I will be sent back to Afghanistan”. 

“I was earning some money from washing cars in a private company and used to have a normal secure life. I even used to send some money back home to my mother,

“Now I am back in Afghanistan and starting from zero. I have no job and feel very scared here. This place is not secure, so many people are dying every day.”

Ahmadi, like many thousands of Afghans, was returned to his native country from Europe between 2015 and 2016, during which the number of deportees nearly tripled from 3,290 to 9,460, according to a new report by Amnesty International released on Thursday.

READ MORE: In Europe, Afghan refugees anticipate deportation

 In the report, the rights group said European governments had remained “willfully blind” to the dangers of returning the thousands of Afghan asylum seekers, including children.

The group called on the nations to impose a moratorium on sending people back until security in Afghanistan improved.

“Afghans who sought asylum in Europe feel far more secure than in Afghanistan. These people, who worked hard in European countries for years, are now being sent back where they are targeted,” Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director for Amnesty, told Al Jazeera.

“Afghan government has to deal with the recent influx of people who have not lived in Afghanistan for years and have no home, no possessions or safety, can you imagine what their situation would be like.”

The majority of Afghans who leave the country to seek asylum in Europe do so through Iran and Turkey, then cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat.

Difficult options

To increase deportations, European governments are implementing a policy of paying refugees to voluntarily return to their home country.

The report reveals the case of Sadeqa (not her real name) who fled Afghanistan in 2015 in fear for her life. The Norwegian authorities denied her asylum and gave her a choice between being detained before being deported or being given EUR 10,700 to return “voluntarily”.

READ MORE: EU deal clears deportation of unlimited Afghan refugees

“This needs to stop immediately; it is unethical according to international human rights laws to give refugees money and ask them to return back to their home country,” Hafizullah Miakhil, spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, told Al Jazeera. 

“They should not be returned until the situation in Afghanistan gets a little better, there is war going on here, these are war-struck people exposed to many other threats.”

Afghanistan has suffered through decades of violence and conflict, and almost 16 years of war after the US invasion in 2001.

Intelligence service reports say at least 20 armed groups, including the Taliban and affiliates of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group, operate in Afghanistan, mostly in border areas near Pakistan.

Civilian casualties remained high in Afghanistan, with 11,418 people killed or injured in 2016, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. That’s up from 11,002 civilian casualties in 2015, according to UNAMA.

In 2016, the five European countries from which the most Afghans were returned were: Germany (3,440), Greece (1,480), Sweden (1,025), the United Kingdom (785) and Norway (760), according to the report.

“Protection recognition rates need to be harmonised across the EU and take into account the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan,” Duniya Aslam Khan, spokesperson for the UNHCR, told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera