While the Syrian refugee crisis is at the heart of the public debate, other refugees have been forgotten. European countries have been hit by a massive flow of migrants -- not only from the Levant but also from all over the world, including rough estimates of 500,000 Afghans.
While most host countries are trying to accommodate Syrian refugees, some of them are sending Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan. Yet, these Afghans are also fleeing violence possibly as severe as the one in the Levant.
Afghans are facing threats from the Taliban, the Islamic State (ISIS) and war and drug lords, not to mention, lawlessness, corruption, and gross unemployment.
Afghanistan is considered one of the most dangerous places on Earth today. It is placed third on the global peace index after Syria and Iraq (160 out of 163).
Civilian deaths are increasing, according to recent reports from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The U.N. report notes 4,921 civilian casualties (1,592 deaths and 3,329 injured) in the first half of 2015 alone. Areas controlled by the Taliban, ISIS or warlords bear considerable resemblance to areas controlled by ISIS in Syria. Afghanistan -- with its weak central government -- is in conflict because there are more than two parties fighting on its soil.
The Taliban has a shadow governor and a military commander for all of its 34 provinces. They are as ruthless in their terror tactics as ISIS. They have beheaded people, committed all sort of atrocities, including extortion, forced taxation, kidnapping and indiscriminate killing of civilians in suicide and car bomb attacks.
In Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, in early August this year, a truck bomb blast took the lives of some 65 civilians and injured hundreds. In October, the northern city of Kunduz, where German forces were once based, was temporarily captured by Taliban militants who targeted men and women working for non-governmental and women’s rights organizations and committed other war crimes.
Just as concerning, ISIS is gaining traction for radical and criminal groups. Some analysts claim that ISIS cannot take roots in Afghanistan, firstly because they are at odds with the Taliban and secondly because they are a foreign phenomenon. This may be true, but in the short term, ISIS is adding to the Afghan chaos and especially to lawlessness in rural Afghanistan.
A number of sources have confirmed the presence of ISIS in the east and north of the country. A PBS documentary in Nooristan province shows that ISIS groups are training children to fight the “infidels,” including the Afghan government and the Taliban. ISIS operators are committing grave atrocities, killing those who oppose them and forcefully marrying underage girls in the villages they reign.
There is also a general threat toward those who believe in the freedom of speech and a progressive Afghanistan. Afghans who have travelled abroad and/or educated themselves about critical thinking and progressive ideals, are threatened by extremists groups, including those who support the current system. Issues like freedom of religion are taboos. So what if a refugee is escaping the country just because of his or her religious or sectarian belief or even political beliefs? Would their host countries deport them?
During a press conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany will take only those Afghan refugees with “acute” fear of prosecution. President Ghani is also supportive of the idea, understandably. For example, migration would limit Afghanistan’s human capacity and cause brain-drain.
Now the question is how do we define “acute need and fear of prosecution?” Anyone living in a war zone is in acute need of shelter and asylum, and any Afghan refugee clearly falls under this category. In return, it will make it illegal for any country who is a signatory of the Geneva Convention and Protocols related to the status of refugees to deport Afghan refugees.
Deportation is not the solution. Perhaps the host countries can temporarily allow Afghan refugees to start a life, learn a skill and start legally residing and working in those countries until there is a viable solution. Afghans ideally want to live in their home country -- provided there is peace, security, and economic opportunity.
But until there is peace and security and a better economy, the flow of Afghan refugees will not stop. Unfortunately, their continued deportation will bring undesirable outcomes. Iran had deported several thousand Afghans and many of them ended up becoming drug abusers and suffering depression. Others made second or third attempts to get out of the country and some died on the perilous journey.
The only viable long-term solution is to bring stability to Afghanistan followed by economic opportunities. European countries or other countries affected by Afghan refugees should work with the Afghan government to create these opportunities for peace and economic growth. Especially by using their political influence, Western countries should encourage the fighting parties and actors involved to start a genuine dialogue on a political settlement of the conflict.
The fighting parties should be politically pressured to lay down their weapons and join the peace process. This should complement joint projects, international community and the Afghan government, which can create job opportunities for the Afghan youth and alleviate poverty.