Despite the escalating violence and devastation in Afghanistan, European governments aim to forcibly repatriate Afghan asylum seekers. Instead, they should concentrate on the reconstruction of the country, and keeping pledges made to the Afghan people.
Tackling refugee issues by introducing tough measures is the preferred approach of the immigration authorities in Europe. Unfortunately they fail to scratch the surface in order to analyse the factors which force people to flee their homelands.
Afghanistan – a wasteland
For more than two decades, the people of Afghanistan have suffered in silence, a never-ending tragedy which destroyed the country completely and turned it into a wasteland. War, instability and human rights abuses have created six million refugees, including one million displaced people inside the country. Seven million people are still facing starvation as a result of one of the severest droughts the region has ever known.The existence of more than ten million buried land mines, which cause daily casualties, severe food shortages and the lack of an appropriate infrastructure, have reduced life expectancy to 40. Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the world.
Afghanistan has been a testing ground for the world’s most fearsome weapons, which have contributed, without any doubt, to serious environmental problems and the spread of life-threatening diseases.The Afghan people have endured enough suffering, destruction and casualties in the past two-and-a-half decades.
Women in Afghanistan
In Kabul alone, nearly fifty thousand starved war widows desperately need food assistance for their children. Unfortunately, the plight of Afghan women, who make up 56 per cent of the population, has never been properly addressed. I am appalled that no political side has taken this into consideration. All seem insistent on a male-dominated political future for Afghanistan.
Danger of anarchy and warlordism
Afghanistan is ruled by a weak government that barely holds sway outside the capital. The provinces are ruled by warlords, who have committed the most brutal crimes against humanity and have taken away our people’s rights, liberty and dignity. All those pledges and promises, made by the international community in the run up to war against the Taliban, have not been met. There is a real danger that security in Afghanistan will deteriorate even further, that prospects for economic reconstruction will fade, and Afghanistan will revert to warlord-dominated anarchy. In the face of escalating violence and provincial power vacuums, the United Nations-backed disarmament programme, launched in May, has not progressed far.
There is sporadic fighting between warlords and rival ethnic groups in provincial areas.This growing lawlessness and warlordism is giving rise to the very circumstances that led to the Taliban taking power in 1996.
Even aid agencies have warned that growing violence in some parts of the country threatens to derail much of the relief and reconstruction work.
Premature returns of refugees
Many of the refugees find themselves returning to a country devastated by years of fighting, with a shortage of houses, jobs and food, and an added sense of insecurity. It is extremely regrettable that, instead of concentrating on the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and keeping pledges made to the Afghan people, European governments have expressed an interest in forcibly repatriating Afghan asylum seekers. Such a policy, in our professional opinion, is premature, ill-conceived, and contrary to the advice of neutral, respected groups like the UNHCR and other NGOs operating in Afghanistan.
The news coming out of Afghanistan starkly contradicts the perception of Afghanistan as a safe place for returned asylum seekers. Ongoing military operations, the lack of infrastructure, severe political instability, and human rights abuses perpetrated, in some cases deliberately, by individuals all contribute to the dangers.
Moreover, the UNHCR, and other NGOs, have warned against the forced return of asylum seekers, not least because they are struggling to cope with refugees coming from countries neighbouring Afghanistan, such as Pakistan and Iran. Indeed, the Afghan authorities themselves are not sympathetic to the forced return of asylum seekers for this reason.
It was with great sadness that we witnessed the forced return of thirty Afghan asylum seekers from Britain to Afghanistan in April. We believe that the forced return of asylum seekers, at short notice and without prior notification, will make little difference to the fair and effective operation of the British asylum system, but is likely to have huge consequences for the returnees – jeopardising their well-being and, in extreme cases, their lives.
Our community is deeply concerned about what it considers to be a premature process. Afghans across Europe are eager to contribute to the reconstruction of their country, but only when conditions there have improved and a certain level of security and stability has been achieved.
Implementing a policy of forced repatriation is not only of dubious morality, but also of dubious legality, inasmuch as it would seem to contravene the EU’s commitment to protecting human rights. It also sends a powerful, negative signal to other EU states to follow suit.
Afghanistan was abandoned before; we fear it is once again on the brink of being abandoned.