Voluntary Repatriations of Afghans
Reality or Only an Euphemism?
Alireza was in Kabul when he received his father’s call urging him to leave the country. A letter signed by the Taliban requested the immediate closure of the English institute that Alireza was directing in Ghazni. After having received a second letter including death threats, Alireza understood he and his family had no chance but to flee the country. The father sold his bakery and the house and paid a smuggler 32.000 dollars to get Alireza, his wife and his two other children out of Afghanistan.
Today Alireza lives in Berlin waiting for the response from Bamf - the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees - which is responsible for the issuing of the first instance asylum in Germany. Much like some 260.000 fellow afghans who applied for international protections between 2015 and 2016 in Europe, with almost 200.000 in Germany alone, Alireza is worried about being deported.
In October 2016, during the Brussels conference on Afghanistan, the European Union pledged 5.6 bilion euro to the Afghan government for a period of 4 years. Within the same conference the EU set the conditions to implement a large scale of voluntary and forced repatriations of afghan rejected asylum seekers. The European Union denied any linkage between the migration agreement – called ‘Joint Way forward’ - and the economic endowment. Still, widespread criticism has risen from humanitarian organizations accusing the EU for having allegedly set repatriations as a condition for the Afghan government to get financial aid.
Among Member States, Germany has embraced with particular interest the development of EU’s policy concerning afghan asylum seekers. After the EU-Turkey deal in March 2016, the Joint Way Forward becomes an additional tool to indirectly decrease the afflux of afghan refugees - which constitutes the second biggest community after the Syrians in Germany. Politics, with federal elections taking place in September 2017, are playing a major role in the shifting of Chancellor Angela Merkel 2015’s welcoming policy. The CDU is in fact facing great challenge by the rising popularity of anti-immigration feelings among the german electorate.
The German government justifies the forced repatriations on the claim that Afghanistan has safe regions where rejected asylum seekers can be sent back to. “German soldiers and police contributed to make Afghanistan secure”, said Thomas de Maiziere, Germany’s Minister of the Interiors. “Much development aid went to Afghanistan, so one can expect that afghans stay in their country”.
Insight from the latest report from UNCHR depict a different reality. The report states - referring to the European Court of Justice interpretation of art 15c of a European Parliament’s directive - that Afghanistan is affected by an internal armed conflict, and there are no safe regions as such. Furthermore, the latest report provided by UNAMA - the UN mission in Afghanistan - brings to the attention a discouraging data: in 2016 the number of conflict-related civilian casualties rose to 11,418,the highest since 2009; of these casualties, 30.7 per cent were children.
“The German government is tailoring its assessments of the security situation in Afghanistan to its own political needs”, comments Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analyst Network based both in Berlin and Kabul. “By doing so the government is getting away from the reality”.
It is worth noting that several federal states - Bremen, Thuringia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Lower Saxony - have been voicing their doubts over the central government’s valuation over security in Afghanistan. Schleswig-Holstein has officially suspended deportation for the next three months. Still, the 22nd of february 2017 a flight boarding 18 afghans flew from Munich to Kabul. Since December 2016, already three flights departed from Germany to Afghanistan for a total amount of 77 deportees. During the same period, next to those repatriating on a forced base, 3200 afghan have gone back on a voluntary basis. Germany in fact pushes for the voluntary return providing an incentive of 700-1200 euro cash to those who accept it.
“The voluntary return is a euphemism. Pressures has been created through various means on Afghans to persuade them to go back with little financial aid, even before their case was proceeded”, continues Ruttig. Yaar Association - that operates in close contact with the afghan community providing both legal and social support - believes that the afghan community is witnessing a systematic strategy of discouragement from the German government. The emotional discomfort given by the possibilities of being sent back and the fear of getting stuck into a limbo of attendance push afghans to accept the voluntary return. With the protection rate – i.e. the rate of the recognised asylum over the total demand - decreasing monthly, from 67 per cent in 2015 to 55.8 per cent in 2016, the afghan community is under great pressure.
On the other side of the deal there is the Afghan government that has accepted the repatriation plan, and yet does not seem equipped for the mass inflow of people returning. According to Amaso association, the 80.000 people expected to come back from EU must be added to 1 million returning from Pakistan, half a million from Iran and around 1.77 million of internally displaced people. The government has not yet set out plans with respect to integration programmes, infrastructures or social services in support of those coming back, explains Maywand Rayhab, Director of the Afghan Institute for Civil Society. Structural problems are not the only concern for afghans activists: the country is subjected to a conflict with anti-government forces that are grounded as never before in the territory. Daesh franchises’ rising presence - responsible for the bloodiest attacks in recent times - reminds the afghans that the Taliban are no longer the only anti-government force in the country.
Most of the returnees have close to nothing left in a country they fled years before, both in terms of accommodations and family networks. Ghafoor, a deportee himself who experienced the difficult journey of integration in Afghanistan, insists in highlighting a more basic aspect of repatriation: “People from villages are far from understanding the political implications of a deportation”. Returnees are perceived as traitors, spies, even as or rich men and women coming back from the ‘golden land of Europe’. As for radical Islamists, Ghafoor keeps explaining, those coming back are ’contaminated’ by the lust of western culture and are potential instigators of movements against their religious practice . These circumstances make deportees easily subjected to kidnapping or death threats.
“It’s fundamental for the European Union to carry out a better monitoring of the afghan government efforts with respect to the betterment of security, employment and livelihood or the re-patriated. Had they included these aspects as mandatory conditions for getting financial aid before starting deportations, things might have been different”, concludes Ghafoor.
In this light, the European Union appears to be investing merely in direct migration control, rather than on a plan for strengthening the afghan social structure. As Heela Najibullah - peace consultant, researcher and daughter of former President Dt Najibullah - points out, the institutional building capacity must be initiated through a process of social healing, given a society affected by the collective trauma of war. The injection of money without coordination, and the massive flow of drastically deported people risk to incentive corruption, abusive power and potentially the violation of human rights, all factors often at the very source of migration. As Alireza concludes: “No lucky man leaves its own country”.