The financial costs and serious risks faced by Afghan asylum-seekers in making the long and arduous journey to Europe are no real deterrent when the alternatives are seen as poverty and political uncertainty at home, young Afghans told IRIN.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says 26,800 Afghans requested refugee status in 2009 - a 45 percent increase on the year before when 18,500 claims were made.
“Afghans currently constitute 7 percent of all asylum applications lodged in the 44 industrialized countries,” Adrian Edwards, a UNHCR spokesman, told IRIN. In 2001 they topped the chart when 54,000 Afghans sought asylum.
UNHCR’s data is only about asylum-seekers and does not include economic migrants who mostly use the same routes and means to reach to their destination, but in far larger numbers.
Many of these “irregular migrants” cross borders without valid travel documents, and risk tough treatment from the authorities if caught. Some countries, such as Iran, treat irregular migrants as illegal intruders into their territory and eligible for immediate expulsion.
“Irregular migrants generally have no legal protection, often don’t speak the language and don’t know where to go for help,” Christopher Lowenstein-Lom, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told IRIN.
There are also the physical perils of the journey. “We know that a number of people have lost their lives trying to reach Europe on flimsy vessels by sea and via the River Evros border between Turkey and Greece. Others have lost their lives trying to enter European countries on trucks and smuggled in containers,” said UNHCR’s Edwards.
And even if they do make it, there is a strong chance their refugee application will be turned down. More than half of all Afghan migrants who applied for asylum in European countries were rejected in 2007-2009, according to EU statistics.
Search for better a life
Afghanistan, ranked among the least developed countries in the world and suffering an intensifying conflict, has few incentives to offer its young generation. IRIN spoke to five young men in Kabul on whether they would prefer to remain in Afghanistan, or despite the risks, try their luck abroad.
• “In Europe and America at least I will breathe clean air,” said Ahmad Naseer, a university student, adding that he would try to leave after graduating. “I will be able to earn enough and support my family and dependents in Afghanistan. What would I do in Afghanistan? I will not find a decent job because corruption is pervasive and no one can find a job without knowing officials.”
• “The future looks very grim and dark in Afghanistan so everyone tries to go abroad for a better life,” said Ahmad Masoud, 25. “Everyone is poor here except warlords, criminals and ministers so it is impossible to make a good life here. Even if Afghanistan were to have peace and progress, 50 years later we will only reach the level of where Bangladesh and other poor countries are today, so why should I stay in a country where there is only poverty and problems?”
• “We don’t want to die in the war or suffer under the Taliban’s brutal regime again,” said Sardar Mohammad, 27. “Americans and all foreign forces are leaving and this weak [Hamid] Karzai government will collapse. Who will care about what brutalities the Taliban will do to us? The Taliban were killing and torturing all of us while they were in power [1995-2001] but the world was saying ‘It’s an Afghan issue and we won’t interfere’. The same thing will happen again when foreign forces leave. ”
• “I know life is not easy in Europe, but at least there is hope for improvement which there is not in Afghanistan. If you work hard in Europe there are no commanders or criminals to rob you and kill you while here [in Afghanistan] there is no rule of law and no order,” said Ahmad Zameer, 22.
• “I want to migrate to Europe because I want to live in peace, have a good income and get a foreign passport but I will return to Afghanistan. A foreign passport is a kind of guarantee that in case of emergency I would be able to leave the country. All senior government officials have foreign passports,” said Faraidoon Atif, 27.
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