Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Afghan migrant returns unlawful, says charity

  • German has returned more people to Afghanistan than any other EU state. (Photo: Michael Foley Photography)

Member states are unlawfully returning rejected migrants and asylum seekers to Afghanistan by putting their lives in danger, says Amnesty International.

Iverna McGowan, who heads the NGO's European institutions office, told reporters on Wednesday (4 October) a temporary moratorium on returns to the country is needed until conditions improve.

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"There is a terrifying gap between the European politics and policies and the realities on the ground, faced by those people who are being returned," she said.

Afghanistan is under constant siege with pro-government forces fighting some 20 different armed groups, including the Taliban and the Islamic State.

A suicide bomb attack in Kabul in May killed 150 and wounded more than 300. Twin blasts in July and August killed another 60 in the capital city.

Last year, the UN's mission to Afghanistan had also registered the highest causality rate for civilians on record with over 11,400 people either killed or injured.

"2017 is going the exact same way," noted Anna Shea, an Amnesty International researcher, who authored a report on the country published on Thursday (5 October).

"Willful blindness" of EU and member states

The EU commission's humanitarian branch, DG Echo, recently described Afghanistan as an "increasingly acute humanitarian crisis." Over two million people are internally displaced, forced to move elsewhere to seek safety.

But despite the rise in causalities and internally displaced, the number of Afghans returned to the country from Europe has increased by some 300 percent from 2015 to 2016, from 3,290 to 9,460.

Germany is leading the way, with some 3,400 returns last year alone, followed by Greece at just under 1,500, and Sweden with around 1,000.

Both Finland and the UK consider anywhere in Afghanistan safe enough to return people. Sweden believes all Afghan provinces are safe except Helmund and Uruzgan.

Some of the returns are coordinated by the EU's border agency, Frontex, whose return mandate has since expanded.

Meanwhile, asylum recognition rates vary across Europe with Bulgaria granting international protection to less than two percent of Afghans as opposed to 97 percent in Italy.

"The only way to describe the approach of the EU and the European governments of issuing returns to Afghanistan is willful blindness," said Shea.

She noted people returned to the country live in constant fear of being killed or injured in attacks. Others risk persecution for their beliefs, their sexuality, or even looking western.

"I have never met people so scared as people I met in Kabul," she said.

Among them is the father of a family who had been kidnapped and held for ransom by the Taliban.

Upon his release, the family fled Afghanistan in 2015 to Norway only to be returned. A few months later, he was killed, says Shea.

Others returned to the country had lived most or all of their lives elsewhere, like in Iran.

A European Commission spokesperson told this website in an email that it is working towards making Afghanistan more safe through political and diplomatic engagement as well as in the areas of security and development.

"In general, it should be underlined that there is a clear need to pursue the creation of a safer, better environment and opportunities for all in Afghanistan," said the spokesperson.

It also noted that return decisions to Afghanistan are taken by national authorities.

Last October in Brussels, the EU had signed a "joint way forward" pact with Afghanistan that aimed to ease returns to the country.

The international community in October last year committed to donate over $15 billion to Afghanistan for development up until 2020.

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