Afghan mi­grants stuck in the Balkans re­sist go­ing home

No turn­ing back

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

They have come a long way, spent most of their money on smug­glers and camped out in the open for weeks. For Afghan mi­grants stranded in the Balkans there is no turn­ing back, even as the most likely prospect many of them face in the Euro­pean Union could be de­por­ta­tion back to their coun­try.

Thou­sands of young Afghan men in Ser­bia and else­where in the re­gion are de­ter­mined to reach wealthy EU na­tions, de­spite closed bor­ders and an agree­ment be­tween their gov­ern­ment and the EU that will more eas­ily send home Afghan cit­i­zens who have been re­jected for asy­lum.

Aid groups have sharply crit­i­cized “The Joint Way For­ward” dec­la­ra­tion, which was agreed upon only days ahead of an in­ter­na­tional donors’ con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day for Afghanistan that pledged $15.2 bil­lion for the be­lea­guered coun­try. Imo­gen Sud­bery, head of the Brus­sels of­fice of the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee, says the plan “is wor­ry­ing on sev­eral lev­els.”

“Deals made be­hind closed doors, thrashed out with no civil so­ci­ety en­gage­ment and with­out ap­par­ent con­sid­er­a­tion for peo­ple’s safety, nor the re­al­i­ties on the ground, set an alarm­ing prece­dent for the EU,” Sud­bery said. “The no­tion that vul­ner­a­ble women and chil­dren can be sent back to a place of war is pre­pos­ter­ous.”

Mea­sures to re­turn

The doc­u­ment out­lines mea­sures to re­turn Afghan cit­i­zens, in­clud­ing char­ter flights, the is­su­ing of travel doc­u­ments and the pos­si­ble con­struc­tion of a separate ter­mi­nal at Kabul Air­port. The EU dec­la­ra­tion said the plan aims “to es­tab­lish a rapid, ef­fec­tive and man­age­able process for a smooth, dig­ni­fied and or­derly re­turn of Afghan na­tion­als” who don’t re­ceive asy­lum in the 28-na­tion bloc.

Afghanistan has been mired in con­flict for decades. Clashes have re­vived re­cently be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and the Tale­ban around the north­ern city of Kun­duz with civil­ians in­creas­ingly flee­ing. Sud­bery said 11,000 civil­ians were killed in Afghanistan last year and 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple re­main in­ter­nally dis­placed.

“Afghanistan can­not be con­sid­ered a ‘safe coun­try,’” Sud­bery in­sisted. Ser­bia is not part of the EU, mak­ing the sit­u­a­tion for Afghans stuck here even more com­pli­cated. It has asked to be in­cluded in the EU-Afghanistan re­turn ar­range­ments.

Some mi­grants in Bel­grade, the Ser­bian cap­i­tal, said they are not safe in Afghanistan and have no way to fin­ish schools, find jobs or earn money. The young men - who stand lit­tle chance of be­ing granted asy­lum in EU coun­tries - pleaded with EU na­tions to let them in so they can have a hope of a bet­ter fu­ture. “Life in Afghanistan is too hard for us, we can’t live there,” said 15-year-old Su­laiman Zazai. “That is why we go to live in Ger­many, for a good life, for our fu­ture.”

The strug­gle is real

Sai­ful­lah Zamiri, 18, added that “we strug­gle a lot in these bad con­di­tions and with closed bor­ders.”“We can’t go back,” Zamiri in­sisted. “Our gov­ern­ment can’t con­trol a bad sit­u­a­tion, so why do you want us to go back to our coun­try?”

Ger­many and other EU na­tions have sought to limit the in­flux of refugees and mi­grants af­ter tak­ing in more than one mil­lion peo­ple last year. The Ger­man gov­ern­ment says the joint dec­la­ra­tion with Afghanistan will pro­vide a “clear and re­li­able ba­sis” for both vol­un­tary re­turns and deportations.

IRC’s Sud­bery blasted as “most damn­ing” the clause that en­vis­ages that un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors could be re­turned if “ad­e­quate re­cep­tion and care-tak­ing ar­range­ments” are put in place in Afghanistan. “It is un­clear how the EU will mea­sure or ver­ify this,” she said. Ra­dos Djurovic, from Ser­bia’s Asy­lum Pro­tec­tion Cen­ter, said asy­lum-seek­ers from Afghanistan must not be au­to­mat­i­cally re­jected but re­viewed in­di­vid­u­ally, con­sid­er­ing that parts of the coun­try are still dan­ger­ous. “Each ap­pli­ca­tion should be taken most se­ri­ously,” he said.

Afghans ac­count for about one half of more than 6,000 mi­grants who have piled up in Ser­bia af­ter EU neigh­bor Hun­gary in­tro­duced strict lim­its on asy­lum -seek­ers and re­in­forced the bor­der with a ra­zor-wire fence and heavy pa­trols. On Tues­day, sev­eral hun­dred men set off on a protest march to­ward Hun­gary, de­mand­ing that au­thor­i­ties there open the bor­der. Tired and cold, the marchers gave up the next morn­ing af­ter walk­ing 40 kilo­me­ters (24 miles) and spend­ing the night out in the open.

On Fri­day, Ser­bian au­thor­i­ties dis­cov­ered two Afghan boys, aged 12 and 16, hid­ing in a truck head­ing to­ward EU mem­ber Croa­tia. In Bel­grade, a park close to the rail­way and bus sta­tions where mi­grants from Afghanistan spend their days and nights is now dubbed “Afghan park.”

On a sunny day last week, some mi­grants were sleep­ing on the benches wrapped in blan­kets at the park. A man was help­ing his friend shave with­out a mir­ror on the park’s wa­ter pipes. A woman was wash­ing clothes and hang­ing them on a rope spread be­tween two poles.

At lunch time, hun­dreds lined up for a warm meal of beans and beets dis­trib­uted by a Bel­grade aid group. Hunched over, the mi­grants ate their food on the ground or on the lim­ited benches. Aid co­or­di­na­tor Gor­dan Paunovic says his Info Park cen­ter now de­liv­ers more than 2,000 meals a day in what he de­scribed as a “dra­matic” in­crease in re­cent months.

—AP

BEL­GRADE, SER­BIA: Mi­grants queue for food at a park where hun­dreds of mi­grants are tem­po­rar­ily re­sid­ing on Thurs­day, Oc­to­ber 6, 2016.

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