EU plans to deport Afghan asylum seekers will not only leave tens of thousands of migrants in despair in , but also undermine security in the war-torn country, a top UN human rights expert has warned.
“Sending them back now clearly adds to instability,” Chaloka Beyani, UN special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said during a recent visit to Afghanistan. “These people cannot be absorbed into Afghan economic and social life. The government clearly says, ‘Look, we don’t have the capacity.’”
This year, 411,327 Afghans have been newly displaced by the conflict, according to UN figures. Another 509,150 Afghans have been ordered to leave Pakistan, bringing the number of “people on the move” inside Afghanistan to almost 2 million, the highest since 2002.
Destitute Afghans fleeing fighting seek refuge in Kandahar – in pictures
The with Afghanistan would put further pressure on the Afghan economy and labour market, strain resources and, according to analysts, . To settle debts, or merely sustain themselves, some families have resorted to marrying off daughters at a young age, said Beyani.
Even in urban areas that offer the most economic opportunities, life has become so precarious that residents have had to flee – sometimes more than once. Last year, when Afghan and international forces fought to push out the Taliban from the northern city of Kunduz, Aminullah, 58, hunkered down with his family. As airstrikes took place across the city for days on end, his 10-year-old daughter Bashira, who has Down’s syndrome, went into a state of shock. She did not recover after the family fled east to Takhar province, or when they returned to Kunduz two weeks later.
When fighting erupted again last month, the family fled once more, this time to the capital. In camps in Kabul, assistance was scarce. The family of 11 slept under three blankets in a tent. Since last year, Bashira had not been able to walk, or utter more than a few words, said Aminullah. “When we hear planes in the sky, she asks me to put my hand on her heart,” he said.
Bibi Nesar, 50, also had to flee Kunduz for the second time. But this time, it was even harder. In last year’s attack, she lost her right arm when a rocket hit her home. Her husband lost an eye. This year, they did not linger long enough to be injured. After a US airstrike last year destroyed a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières, there was no quality healthcare facility in Kunduz province to help them if they got wounded again. “When we fled, there were dead bodies everywhere but we tried not to look at them,” Bibi Nesar said.
Afghan migrants being deported from abroad will only add to the problems. Although deported migrants are not necessarily destined to become internally displaced people (IDPs), the line between the two groups is fluid, said Beyani.
“Today’s IDPs are tomorrow’s refugees. If their livelihoods are not met, IDPs will move and become refugees,” he said. “Equally, those who may be returned and don’t go back to their place of origin – if they are not integrated, they will become IDPs.”
Afghan exodus from Pakistan could be 'catastrophic' without urgent aid
A tidy integration is unlikely to happen, according to , which echoes the UN rapporteur’s warnings: “Additional returns from Pakistan, Iran, or Europe are likely to result in further secondary displacement, unemployment and instability.”
Fariba, 25, a mother of four, fled Kunduz the day fighting broke out. She pawned her engagement ring to pay a taxi driver who took her to a camp on the outskirts of Kabul.
Her husband, a soldier deployed to Helmand, would not be able to travel to Kabul for another four months, she said, “so I have no protection at night”.
Beyani criticised the Afghan government for letting politics hamper its response to the crisis. Efficient aid delivery is slowed down by internal government squabbles, and occasionally the government refuses to assist people in areas controlled by the Taliban, in contravention of humanitarian principles, he said.
Both the UN rapporteur and the UNHCR-World Bank report emphasise that Afghans, squeezed by economic hardship and violence, have genuine reasons for migrating. “Leaving is more of a necessity, rather than a choice,” it says.
Necessity, however, is not what prompted Europe to prepare the deportation of tens of thousands of Afghans, said Beyani. That decision is political. “Europe has never had 1 million come as they did last year and yet, if you put that in perspective, there are regions, including Asia, Africa and Latin America, where 1 million people may be absorbed by a single country,” he said.