Several European countries justify the deportation of Afghan refugees by saying Afghanistan is now a safe country, but the ongoing violence in the country suggests the European narrative of peace contradicts the reality on the ground.
On a cold, foggy morning, a correspondent headed to a cluster of camps for internally displaced people in northern Afghanistan's Balkh region.
The fresh conflicts between the Taliban militants and Afghan government forces in Faryab province have forced thousands to flee from the region into these camps. The total number of conflict-driven displacements crossed the 350,000 mark in 2018.
Leaving everything behind, most of them fled to the relatively peaceful outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif. The campsite is in the middle of nowhere. The displaced families have set up their tents using plastic sheets and temporary extension poles. At first glance, it was clear that these families were on their own, without any help from the Afghan state.
Afghanistan continues to go through gruelling instability, which started about 40 years ago, making the country the second least peaceful country in the world after Syria. And yet, on the notion of "peace" having returned to Afghanistan, several European countries have shut their doors to Afghan refugees.
But according to the BBC study that was revealed in January 2018, the Taliban still control 70 percent of Afghanistan. The internecine war between the Taliban and the Afghan state has caused widespread deaths, destruction and poverty.
The Russian invasion, the subsequent civil war and then the American invasion that promised to crush the Taliban, completely ruined the country’s social life, economy and essential infrastructure.
The extent of desperation among the Afghan people is quite visible. As the TRT World team arrived at the camps, many displaced Afghans gathered around the reporter, thinking he was from an NGO and visiting them to deliver some kind of aid. But when they learned that wasn't the case, they began narrating their personal stories. Each one hoped that the world would hear them and perhaps help them.
“I was working as a security guard in a market in Kayser district. Now I have been jobless for four months,” says 45-year-old Najibullah.
Najibullah and his five daughters left their home when the fighting broke out between the Taliban militants and Afghan forces. “The only victims here are civilians," he said. "The Taliban and Afghan forces both are dropping bombs on us."
Najibullah is heavily dependent on humanitarian assistance. The displacement rendered him jobless. “No help has come from the Afghan state yet, even though they promised us.”
Next to him, 55-year-old Mehmet Ayyub chipped into the conversation. He raised his voice to describe his ordeal.
“I have not used any medicine in the 55 years of my life,” he said, pulling out a bag of medicines from his big shirt pockets to suggest that the war eventually took its toll on his health.
“But now I have to use these pills everyday because I have high blood pressure and diabetes.”
He is currently living in a small tent that he built with the help of his six children. The path ahead of him and his family is full of uncertainty and he has nothing to look forward to. Almost all the avenues of upward mobility in the country have long ceased to exist.
Ay Jamal sat on a big stone, staring at the reporter while he conducted interviews with others. The 65-year-old then pointed at her long skirt and said, “I could not take anything from my house when I left, except the clothes on me right now.”
“I was already suffering, when my only son was killed by the Taliban because he served in the Afghan army," she continued. "I had to take care of his four children by myself.”
And when the Taliban militants burned her home about three months ago while fighting the Afghan army, she got on the back of a truck along with her neighbours and fled her village, which was burned to the ground.
“I did not want to be a refugee,” she said, as her eyes welled up with tears. “I just want to go back my village.”
Gul Afraz, the 50-year-old mother of four girls, recently buried her son who was a soldier in the Afghan army. When the Taliban gained control of her village Cilgaz, she said, “The Afghan war planes dropped bombs on civilians,” killing several villagers, which included her neighbours.
Afraz said she was not sad to leave her home but happy to live. Afraz is one of the recent victims who were uprooted from home as skirmishes broke out between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Faryab province.
According to a report released by the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations in December 2018, nearly 25,000 Afghans have fled to Mazar-i-Sharif from Faryab.
With 2.5 million registered by the UN, Afghan refugees are the largest refugee population in Asia and the second largest in the world. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans have embarked on dangerous journeys to seek refuge in Europe and other Western countries.
Since 2015, however, Europe’s approach toward Afghan refugees has changed. While migrants from other conflict zones like Syria and Nigeria continue to trickle into Europe, several European countries began to identify Afghan refugees as ‘economic migrants,’ removing the essential humanitarian protection from them. They began to perceive them as migrants who were running away from intractable poverty, overlooking the fact that most of them had fled because of the war. Starting with Germany, many European nations had no qualms about deporting hundreds of them.
Where they deport these refugees to is a country full of violence. Afghanistan is not as safe as European leaders want Afghan refugees to believe. And the stories of displaced people in refugee camps inside Afghanistan prove that peace is still far away from the troubled land.