Sent back from Europe, some Afghans pre­pare to try again

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

KABUL: Last year, Hamid Rostami, a 28year-old from War­dak in western Afghanistan, was expelled from Den­mark af­ter years try­ing to stay in Europe. Job­less and cut off from his fam­ily, he now sits in win­try Kabul won­der­ing how to go back.

Job­less and un­will­ing to go home to a dis­trict where he says a dozen peo­ple from the Hazara eth­nic mi­nor­ity to which he be­longs have been killed by Tale­ban mil­i­tants in re­cent weeks, his choices are bleak. “If I can get enough money I’ll go again. It is hard to sur­vive here,” he said. “The sit­u­a­tion is bad in Kabul. There is no se­cu­rity, no job. If you go out of your house it’s un­clear what may hap­pen to you. You can’t go any­where.”

Rostami’s predica­ment un­der­lines the prob­lem for Euro­pean coun­tries that promised to send back failed asy­lum seek­ers in the face of grow­ing pub­lic alarm at the num­bers ar­riv­ing.

“The truth is that most Afghans who are forced to re­turn will try to leave again, what­ever pol­icy makers in­tend,” said Ceri Oep­pen, from the Univer­sity of Sus­sex in Bri­tain, who has worked ex­ten­sively on the prob­lems of Afghan mi­grants.

Ac­cu­rate sta­tis­tics on the num­ber of Afghan mi­grants and asy­lum seek­ers to Europe are hard to come by. But since the start of the year, al­most 150,000 have ar­rived in Greece, the usual en­try point to Europe, the sec­ond largest num­ber of any coun­try af­ter Syria, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions refugee agency.

De­spite bil­lions of dol­lars in aid to sup­port Afghanistan over the past 14 years, in the first six months of 2015, around 40,000 Afghans ap­plied for asy­lum in the Euro­pean Union, ac­cord­ing to EU sta­tis­tics agency Euro­stat.

“Aside from the very wealthy, the only ones who are not think­ing of leav­ing are the des­ti­tute,” said Liza Schus­ter, a mi­gra­tion spe­cial­ist at City Univer­sity in Lon­don, who has just com­pleted three years’ field­work at Kabul Univer­sity.

“Part of it is driven by an un­re­al­is­tic idea of life in Europe, but a huge part is driven by how dif­fi­cult it is in Afghanistan,” she said.

BLEAK PROSPECTS

Even be­fore Fri­day’s at­tacks in Paris in­creased sen­si­tiv­ity around the is­sue, pres­sure was ris­ing on Euro­pean gov­ern­ments to limit num­bers al­lowed to stay. Ger­many and Swe­den, among the most lib­eral coun­tries to­wards refugees, have sig­nalled a tougher stance in the face of grow­ing pub­lic dis­quiet.

The Afghan gov­ern­ment has been torn be­tween the need to sat­isfy aid donors that it is try­ing to keep cit­i­zens from em­i­grat­ing en masse, and alarm at the prospect of hav­ing to re­set­tle thou­sands of re­turnees sent back from Europe.

This week, For­eign Min­is­ter Salahud­din Rab­bani and Sayed Hus­sain Alemi Balkhi, Min­is­ter for Refugees, met EU am­bas­sadors to plead for gen­er­ous treat­ment of refugee ap­pli­cants given un­sta­ble se­cu­rity and the ap­proach­ing win­ter. Be­hind the re­quests lies a stark re­al­ity, said Ab­dul Ghafoor, a for­mer mi­grant who runs an in­for­ma­tion ser­vice in Kabul for Afghans think­ing of leav­ing or re­turnees try­ing to ad­just.

“Afghanistan is sim­ply not ready to take all the re­turnees back,” he said. “It’s not just ba­sic se­cu­rity, it’s about work and prospects for the fu­ture.”

The econ­omy has been hit by a sharp fall in aid money, and jobs are in short sup­ply. Se­cu­rity has also wors­ened since NATO al­lies ended com­bat oper­a­tions, with the in­sur­gency spread­ing to a point where the Tal­iban briefly seized the north­ern city of Kun­duz in Septem­ber.

Bomb at­tacks reg­u­larly hit Kabul, and ac­cord­ing to United Na­tions fig­ures from Au­gust, 1,592 civil­ians were killed and 3,329 wounded in fight­ing since the start of the year.

KABUL OVER­CROWDED

A large demonstration in Kabul last week, sparked by the grue­some ex­e­cu­tion of seven Hazaras by Is­lamist mil­i­tants, un­der­lined the fear and anger that Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani has been un­able to ease.

With more of the coun­try un­der Tale­ban con­trol, re­turnees end up stuck in an over­crowded Kabul, far from fam­ily net­works es­sen­tial to sur­vival in Afghanistan. Euro­pean gov­ern­ments have de­voted ma­jor ef­forts to help­ing re­turnees re­set­tle, pro­vid­ing travel as­sis­tance, cash bonuses and re­train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for those will­ing to go back.

Many ob­servers who work on Afghan mi­gra­tion say repa­tri­a­tion aid can go to­wards fi­nanc­ing fresh ef­forts to leave, but Ma­sood Ah­madi, who heads the re­set­tle­ment pro­gram op­er­ated by the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion, said tight con­trols on how the money is used limit that risk.

“There are a lot of rea­sons for us to be­lieve that rein­te­gra­tion sup­port will not fi­nance rem­i­gra­tion,” he said in his Kabul of­fice. With the cost of a sin­gle trip around $7,000-8,000, the price of mi­gra­tion is high, but the prom­ise of a bet­ter life in Europe is a pow­er­ful at­trac­tion, de­spite well-known risks of the voy­age and the grind­ing strug­gle that awaits those who make it.

Ah­madi said the expectations of many mi­grants were un­re­al­is­tic and more ef­fort should go to­wards per­suad­ing peo­ple there are bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties at home rather than ac­cept­ing em­i­gra­tion is in­evitable. “With $7,000 or $8,000, you can make a good busi­ness in Afghanistan.”

For Rostami, how­ever, the lure of Europe is al­ready too strongly an­chored and most of his friends have left. “If I tell my story about how I was de­ported to other peo­ple, they don’t be­lieve me. If you tell them that liv­ing con­di­tions are very bad in Europe, they won’t be­lieve you.” — Reuters

MAZAR-I-SHARIF: Afghan la­borer Da­wod, 7, har­vests cot­ton as he works on his fam­ily’s farm on the out­skirts of Mazar-i-Sharif.—AFP

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