EU efforts to repatriate Afghan asylum seekers dangerous | Refugees


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Currently, there are approximately 2.6 million registered Afghan refugees worldwide. In 2020, Afghan refugees were the second largest group of asylum seekers in continental Europe, having fled Afghanistan for a variety of reasons including persecution, conflict, economic hardship and climate-induced displacement. Each person has a different reason, in many cases multiple reasons, to seek safety.

At the end of 2020, the European Union and the Afghan government began negotiations to extend the “common way forward” – an informal agreement they signed in 2016 to facilitate the repatriation of Afghans who came to Europe for there. seek protection.

The deal, which essentially ties aid to Afghanistan to ensuring it would streamline the return of Afghans whose asylum claims have been rejected in Europe, has been controversial since its inception. Countless human rights organizations, refugee advocates and migration experts have insisted from the start that the common path in the future will only send vulnerable people back to an unstable environment and furthermore. in addition hostile.

European governments and agencies are also aware of the many dangers posed by this agreement. In a leaked March 2016 document, EU agencies acknowledged “the worsening security situation” in Afghanistan as well as “record levels of terrorist attacks and civilian casualties” in the country. However, they insisted that “more than 80,000 people may need to be returned in the near future”.

Since signing Joint Way Forward, European governments have repatriated tens of thousands of Afghan asylum seekers, including young adults and children, with devastating consequences. Several refugees have been attacked by the Taliban and other armed groups after being deported from Europe to Afghanistan, and many more still live today under the threat of violence, hunger. and death.

Members of Afghanistan’s Hazara minority community would be particularly vulnerable to violence and persecution if forced to return to the country. Comprising around a quarter of Afghanistan’s 38 million people, the Hazaras have long been persecuted for their Shia faith in a largely Sunni country beset by deep ethnic divisions.

Recent survey data from the Mixed Migration Center shows that among the 1,255 returnees from Europe to Afghanistan surveyed between July 2020 and January 2021, 41% intended to migrate again when the COVID-19 situation permits. Another 38 percent were uncertain, and only 18 percent intended to stay in Afghanistan.

Despite all this, the EU still seems determined to repatriate as many Afghan refugees as possible. Although the amendments, if any, that will be made to the agreement following last year’s renegotiation have not yet been made public, it is evident that the EU will continue to use the common path to pressure the Afghan government to readmit its nationals in the years to come.

But now is not the time to focus on repatriation. For many Afghan refugees in Europe, and in particular for the Hazaras, returning to their country of origin is now more dangerous than ever, for several reasons.

A volatile and increasingly hostile environment

The conflict in Afghanistan is far from over and the situation in the country is still extremely volatile. In 2020, the Global Peace Index ranked Afghanistan as the least peaceful country in the world for the second year in a row.

Afghanistan has the second highest level of emergency food insecurity in the world, with nearly one in two children under five expected to face acute malnutrition in 2021. In addition, nearly 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Insurgent groups in the country have stepped up their targeted killings of women, minorities and progressive thinkers in recent years. The Taliban are gradually increasing their power and influence over the country.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has put increased pressure on the country’s struggling economy and crumbling health infrastructure.

In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed a landmark agreement to “bring peace to Afghanistan”, but the move did nothing to curb attacks on Afghan civilians. In fact, there has been a spike in violence in the first six months of 2020, with an increase in civilian casualties, especially in the northern and northeastern regions.

Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden announced his intention to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. With the Taliban and the Afghan government on the cusp of reaching a political settlement, violence and instability in the country are expected to increase after the exit of US troops.

If the EU continues to repatriate Afghan refugees under these circumstances, it would not only risk their lives, but also further erode the already crumbling image of Europe as a bastion of human rights.

An environmental crisis continues

Thousands of Afghans have not made a dangerous journey to Europe just because of the continuing conflict, and conflict is not the only obstacle to their return.

The Afghan people also face a growing array of environmental problems, from relentless deforestation and land degradation to uncontrolled urbanization and inadequate solid waste disposal. Due to climate change, the country also experiences more frequent and severe floods, landslides and droughts.

In a country where a large percentage of the population lives in rural areas and depends on agriculture for survival, droughts are having a devastating effect. Not only do they leave millions of people without sufficient food and water, but also hamper efforts to improve sanitation and increase people’s vulnerability to epidemics.

A drought in 2018 affected 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces and displaced at least 300,000 people. According to the United Nations, “13.5 million people were facing a ‘crisis’ or worse levels of food insecurity in September 2018” as a result of the drought. Another moderate to severe drought, which could lead to greater instability and further waves of internal displacement, is expected in Afghanistan later this year.

In this context, it is unacceptable that the EU even considers returning refugees to Afghanistan. Between the ongoing conflict, political uncertainties and the myriad of environmental challenges facing the country, it is impossible for returnees to lead a safe, secure and dignified life in Afghanistan.

The urgent need for policy change

Currently, EU policies on Afghan refugees and asylum seekers aim to return as many of them as possible to their countries of origin as quickly as possible. However, to ensure that the human rights of these long-suffering people are not violated, a more equitable and multidimensional approach is needed. Until Afghanistan as a country is back on its feet and able to provide safe and dignified living conditions for all its citizens, the EU should focus on strengthening its asylum system and welcoming more Afghans in need.

Beyond suspending its own repatriation efforts until conditions in Afghanistan improve, the EU should also provide more assistance to countries hosting the largest numbers of Afghan refugees.

Indeed, the number of Afghan refugees in the EU, and in the Western world in general, is minimal compared to the number of refugees currently residing in Asian countries.

Today, around four million Afghan refugees are believed to be in Pakistan and Iran. Turkey also hosts a large number of Afghan refugees. Many refugees in these countries live in dire conditions with limited access to food, clean water and health care. In addition, their status in these countries is very precarious.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), from January 2020 to December 2020, there were 806,300 returns from Iran and Pakistan to Afghanistan, including deportations. Since January 2021, 286,618 additional returns from Iran and Pakistan have been recorded. Although these are not exact figures, as many refugees have been repeatedly deported, they still show the scale of the problem.

Afghanistan currently lacks the capacity to accommodate hundreds of thousands of returnees and provide them with humane living conditions. The EU, together with the rest of the international community, should work with Iran, Pakistan and other countries hosting large numbers of Afghan refugees to ensure that they are not forced to return to a dangerous environment. In addition, they should help these countries to provide decent living conditions to these refugees.

Returning Afghan refugees and asylum seekers to Afghanistan may bring short-term political gains to host governments, but it will also exacerbate Afghanistan’s multifaceted crisis and the immense suffering of its people.

The EU can and should welcome more Afghan refugees, not less. Rather than using aid money as leverage to pressure the Afghan government to support repatriation efforts through the so-called common path, it should devote its energy and financial resources strengthening its asylum system and increasing its migration quotas.

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About Eleanor Blackburn

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