Afghans are less optimistic about their country’s future than at any point during the past decade, according to a survey that also sheds light on why so many young people are risking dangerous journeys to Europe.
In a of the national mood in Afghanistan, released on Tuesday by the Asia Foundation, 36.7% of respondents thought the country was moving in the right direction, down from 54.7% in 2014. In addition, 40% said they would leave the country if they had the opportunity.
The two main reasons for the widespread discontent were insecurity and unemployment, followed by corruption, a bad economy and frustration with the government.
The foundation’s survey has been carried out annually since 2004. In the , conducted after presidential elections last year, optimism was at a record high. The sharp drop since then illustrates widespread disappointment with the performance of President Ashraf Ghani’s government.
The economy, eroded by the flight of foreign investment, remains comatose. Despite Ghani’s pledges to fight corruption, 90% of those questioned said corruption was a problem in their daily lives, while 94% said corruption was a problem in provincial governments.
Security is also worsening, with 2015 on record for Afghan civilians since the war began. Just over 67% said they feared for their personal safety, a rate that is also the highest in a decade.
Perhaps surprisingly, the most optimistic citizens are to be found in the embattled southern Helmand province, where 62.1% think the country is moving in the right direction. Optimism is lowest in Kabul where only 22.5% think is on the right track.
“Afghanistan experienced the impact of the three simultaneous security, political and economic transitions in 2015,” said Abdullah Ahmadzai, country representative for the Asia Foundation.
“Against this intensely challenging backdrop, the 2015 survey reflects Afghans’ understandable concerns, and a frustration that more progress isn’t being made. The results show increased scepticism in the government’s ability to effectively address these challenges,” said Ahmadzai. He encouraged the international community and regional neighbours to maintain support for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The survey underlines why so many Afghans are leaving their country. At least , according to Afghan officials, compared with 58,500 in 2014.
In attempts to stem the surge, European governments have tried in various ways to dissuade desperate Afghans from embarking on the risky journey. Last Sunday, a Norwegian government delegation visited Kabul and in Norway.
“It is the responsibility of the country of [their] citizenship to receive them,” said Tore Hattrem, state secretary to the Norwegian ministry of foreign affairs, quoted in local media.
Germany, too, is trying to convince Afghans to stay home, with social media campaigns and billboards in several Afghan cities. Some of them read: “Leaving Afghanistan? Are you sure?” Others say: “Do not risk your lives trying to flee to Europe.”
International organisations say they don’t have exact profiles of who leaves, but the Asia Foundation survey tries to profile the typical asylum seeker. According to the report, most prospective asylum seekers are young, unemployed single men who have heard about Islamic State, which may have fuelled fears for their personal safety. As a result, the report concluded, migration also constitutes a serious brain drain for Afghanistan.
For its part, the Afghan government has made futile attempts to stop the flow of citizens towards Europe, where they make up 19% of Mediterranean arrivals, second only to Syrians, .
Earlier this year a government billboard campaign people not to risk the journey, drawing on images of dead bodies on a European beach and appeals to people’s sense of patriotism and duty to rebuild the nation.
A group of in Kabul have also chimed in, painting murals on the wall of the passport office discouraging their peers from leaving.
At a time when many Afghans fear the ongoing withdrawal of foreign troops and donors will endanger hard-won achievements of the past 14 years, the survey reveals an increasing number of women are worried about their rights: 16% of women listed a lack of rights as their main concern, up from 11% last year.
That increase could also stem from recent Taliban incursions into cities and districts that were previously considered safe, where insurgents have specifically targeted female members of civil society.
A year after the first peaceful transfer of power following the Taliban’s expulsion in 2001, Afghans are growing increasingly disillusioned with democracy. While 73.1% last year said they were satisfied with the democratic process, only 57.2% this year did so.
As for women’s participation in elections, 50% of the population – and 48% of women – believe women should consult with men or let men vote for them.