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War at home, and ‘political war’ abroad for Afghan refugees

  • Tara Ansari Esfahani
  • 23 Jul 2021

Afghans have undergone decades of war forcing millions to flee the country. Despite the volatile situation in Afghanistan, the European Union regularly deports refugees back ‘home’ or to third countries.

Migrants and refugees wait for assistance aboard an overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean on Feb 12, 2021 ( Bruno Thevenin / AP )

Following the withdrawal of US and NATO troops the security situation in Afghanistan has been drastically worsening. The Taliban claims to have taken control of 85 percent of the country, the US military says it controls roughly half of all 'district centres'. 

Ali Folladwand, a Hazara activist, says the withdrawal of US and NATO troops was perceived as a win against foreing troops which has given the Taliban courage to defeat government forces leading to an increase in violence. The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan has also aggravated existing ethnic tensions and historical wounds minorities have faced. The increased conflict has particularly endangered ethnic minorities such as the Hazara’s - a historically persecuted group in Afghanistan. 

In the last few weeks, Hazaras have been creating new self-organised militias saying the government is not protecting them from targeting by the Taliban and other terrorist organisations.

The United Nations stated that the situation in Afghanistan is a humanitarian catastrophe with over 18 million people, more than half the country’s population, in need of dire ‘life-saving support’. 

Just last month 208 civilians were killed in clashes between government and pro-government forces and the Taliban. The war in Afghanistan never ended, there has not been a day of peace for the people of Afghanistan, despite this the EU and its member states have continued to label Afghanistan a safe country for Afghan asylum seekers to be returned to.

The capital, Kabul, is labeled as one of the ‘safe’ areas by the EU, where refugees can be returned to by EU Member States although indiscriminate deadly attacks have occurred there regularly over the years. 

On May 31, 2017 a car bomb in central Kabul led to one of the deadliest attacks the country had seen since the start of the US war in Afghanistan in 2001. Just a few months ago, a bomb explosion outside a highschool in a Shiite Hazara neighborhood in Kabul killed around 90 people, mostly young girls and children.

Although, the general situation on the ground across Afghanistan is one of ongoing war, Afghan refugees are facing an increasingly uncertain prospect of receiving international protection in the EU.

Forced to flee

The inevitable result of this rise in violence, destruction and civilian casualties is forced displacement. The only option left for millions of Afghans is to flee searching for safety - internally, to neighbouring countries, such as Iran and Pakistan, or beyond towards Turkey and Europe. 

Between January to the start of July an estimated 270,000 Afghans have been forced to flee their homes making 3.5 million Afghans internally displaced. Right now, everyday, thousands are queuing in front of Kabul’s passport office to receive travel documents to be able to leave the country. 

Many have already fled to Turkey and Iran as the Taliban took over their regions. Afghan refugees will continue making their way towards Europe through one of key routes connecting Turkey and Greece. In 2020, Afghans made up the biggest population to apply for asylum in Greece - Afghans also made up almost 50 percent of all sea arrivals in the Aegean Islands.

Yet, instead of receiving safety if they reach Europe, Afghan refugees fleeing war will face a ‘political war’ upon their entry in Greece. On June 7th, 2021 Greek authorities released a Joint Ministerial Decision (JMD) which labeled Turkey as a ‘safe third country’ for all asylum seekers from five nationalities seeking international protection including Afghans. This JMD reinforces the EU-Turkey statement of 2016 which labeled Turkey a ‘safe third country’ for Syrians.

Legally this means, Afghans will no longer undergo an initial eligibility interview, on why they fled Afghanistan, but will first undergo an admissibility interview on whether Turkey is a safe country for them to be returned to. Afghan asylum seekers who reach Greece will first and foremost be interviewed on whether they can be deported back to Turkey with disregard of the life threatening war in Afghanistan and the risk of refoulement if returned to Turkey. Only if it is concluded that Turkey is not a safe third country for an asylum seeker will their claim for international protection be assessed.

Following the EU-Turkey deal thousands of Syrians were summarily returned to Turkey - despite the controversy on whether Turkey could be labeled a safe country. In 2018, 5,000 Syrians were returned to Turkey from Greece. 

When Greece faces an influx of asylum seekers if the security situation in Afghanistan worsens, it is likely that many of those who do reach Greece can be deported to Turkey under the JMD - and then risk deportation to Afghanistan.

With tensions rising, the Taliban gaining territory, ISIS and other terrorist organisations becoming more active, a government unable and unwilling to fully protect all citizens, and a lack of international outrage - the security situation in Afghanistan will leave millions bleeding through another full fledged war. 

Folladwand said it is foreseeable with the current situation for Afghanistan to fall into a full blown internal war, "the worst probability is a breakdown of the central government in Kabul leading to an internal war where it is unclear who is fighting who." 

Those with the means and ability to leave the country will be pushed into discriminatory and unjust living conditions in Iran, Pakistan, or Turkey or be thrown into a ‘political war’ if they reach Greece.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

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