Forced Home to a War Zone

Afghans who were deported from Germany exited Kabul International Airport, Afghanistan, in December.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI / ASSOCIATED PRESS
By EMRAN FEROZ

STUTTGART, Germany — When Peer Mohammad called me a few weeks ago, I immediately knew that something was wrong. My friend is almost invariably calm and good-humored, but when he called his voice was filled with anxiety. “I got this letter,” he said. “It’s over.” The letter was nothing less than a deportation decree. German authorities had decided to send Peer back to Afghanistan, our war-torn home country.

For the past six years, Peer has lived here in Stuttgart. In 2011, he fled his home in Paktia Province, in eastern Afghanistan, because of worsening violence. He reached Germany after traveling, often by foot, through Iran, Turkey, Greece and the Balkans. After a year in Stuttgart, he found a job as a cleaner, which he has held ever since. Today, he is integrated into society, has learned better-than-passable German and pays his fair share of taxes. He has made friends from around the world and has begun to plan a future here.

But all of a sudden, he was forced to book a plane to Kabul. The authorities had told him to “leave voluntarily,” a veiled threat that contained the specter of state agents appearing at his door if he failed to self-deport. To incentivize his allegedly voluntary return, Peer will receive a few hundred euros.

Targeting Afghan asylum seekers for deportation has become a trend in the European Union, where governments are seeking to decrease and discourage migration. While refugees from Iraq or Syria are regularly granted asylum, more and more Afghans face deportation. Even though Afghanistan has been plagued by war for nearly 40 years, countries like Sweden, Austria and Germany argue that many Afghans are “economic migrants” and that their country has “safe areas” to which they can return.

 Those responsible for the trend are not just in Berlin and Stockholm. Last fall, the Afghan government made a deal with the European Union that ensured the deportation of Afghan refugees. Kabul’s government was granted billions of euros in aid money on the condition that it help repatriate Afghans deported from Europe.

Since then, Afghan refugees all over Europe have been thrust into a state of dread. Meanwhile, the Afghan government pretends to be in control of the country’s security. According to President Ashraf Ghani, the European Union’s money is needed to boost the country’s economy. However, most of it might vanish in Afghanistan’s corrupt political system, as has happened in the past with international aid.

For many Afghans in Europe, it is very clear that their government has sold them out. My friend Peer is furious at the political elites in Kabul who made a deal that doomed the life he had planned in Germany. While average Afghans like him have lost control over their futures, the children of President Ghani live in the United States, while the family of Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, lives in India. In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Ghani said that he had no sympathy for those who were looking for refuge somewhere else.

“How do these people dare to decide about our lives and destinies?,” Peer said. “It’s such a charade. And how can they be taken seriously?”

Since December, Germany has deported 107 Afghans to Kabul, all on special charter flights. Like other European governments, Germany argues that Afghanistan has “safe areas” — though it seems unable to identify where they are.

The reality of life in Afghanistan is that nowhere is safe. Suicide attacks and bombings are regular occurrences in big cities like Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif, Herat and Jalalabad. According to recent United Nations figures, civilian casualties in the country have reached a peak since 2009. In 2016, more than 11,500 civilians were killed or injured. One-third of the victims were children. In the first quarter of 2017, at least 2,181 civilian casualties have been documented by the United Nations. During that time, the highest number of civilian casualties took place in Kabul Province, the very place deportees are being sent.

This reality was proved again on May 31, when more than 80 people were killed and many hundred more were injured by a bomb blast in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar quarter. On the same day, Afghans deported from Austria and Sweden entered Kabul’s airport.

Following that bombing, the German government has temporarily suspended deportations and said it would reassess Afghanistan’s security situation. But the policy encouraging “voluntary deportations” remains in place.

Peer has no idea where he will go or what he will do after he lands in Kabul. He has no relatives in the city. The village where he was raised, in Paktia, is a remote war zone controlled by insurgents where life is punctuated by the horror of routine airstrikes from both the Afghan National Army and NATO.

“I’m forced to go back there. I don’t have any other choice, but it seems that nobody in Germany cares anyway,” Peer told me. After accompanying my friend for several days from office to office, I had the same sense of disillusionment. The local authorities simply refused to discuss the issue of sending a refugee back to a high-risk war zone. When I asked them if the German government would take responsibility for the possible death of my friend, my question was met with silence.

“Deportation is the current practice and you know that,” a government bureaucrat told me. “Well, maybe he has done something bad,” another said. Detached from the gravity of the decision they had made over my friend’s life, which was suddenly put in jeopardy by his imminent return to an unfamiliar war zone, these functionaries could only respond that they were just following orders.

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