Britain and other European nations are under increasing pressure to explain why they are sending hundreds of desperate Afghans back to one of the world’s most dangerous countries.
MPs and MEPs have raised questions about whether the EU tied a 2016 aid package for to its willingness to take back refused asylum seekers.
Since the deal, forced repatriations have accelerated. The International Organisation for says 500 Afghans have been forcibly removed back to Afghanistan this year, compared to 200 last year. More than 3,000 have returned voluntarily this year.
As of September 2017, Afghans accounted for the largest number of asylum applications in the EU, with 170,045 pending cases. But they lose more than 50% of asylum appeals – far more than Syrians do – because some parts of the country, such as the capital, Kabul, are now considered safe.
Human rights activists say people sent home could be killed, and Amnesty has of breaking international law by deporting at a time when civilian casualties in the country are at their highest for years.
In a report discussed by the UN security council this week, the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, noted that security was parlous throughout the country.
“Targeted killings and abductions increased by 16% compared with the same period in 2016,” his report said, adding that there were more than 21,000 security-related incidents in the first 11 months of the year.
The UN’s assistance mission in Afghanistan said that in the first nine months of 2017 more than 2,000 civilians were killed and more than 5,000 injured.
In , the repatriations have sparked a wave of airport protests, with signs reading “Don’t send people back to die”. Some pilots have joined the movement, refusing to fly repatriation planes.
“What the government is doing is awful,” said Ramin Mohabat, an Afghan refugee who protested against the departure of 78 asylum seekers at the beginning of December. “They are playing with people’s lives and everyone who is sent back is in danger.
“I have been all over Afghanistan and I know all the cities, and conflict is happening everywhere. The biggest problem is the Taliban but there is also the Islamic State now and in every city there are different armed groups that just do what they want to do.
The EU and Afghanistan signed a “joint way forward” agreement in November 2016 as part of an aid package that contained provisions for deportations of migrants if asylum claims had been lost.
The EU is now being challenged to explain whether the £184m of “state-building aid” was made “migration sensitive” and whether it would have been withheld unless Afghanistan agreed to cooperate on the enforced deportation of Afghans that lost asylum appeals in .
Last week members of the European parliament passed a resolution deploring the failure of the European commission and the Council of Ministers to consult on the 2016 agreement and saying enforced deportation was in direct breach of international humanitarian law.
In the UK, the European scrutiny select committee has written to the Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan seeking fresh details of whether an explicit link to deportations was made by the EU in the deal.
In questioning what it called the “controversial link” between aid and deportations, the committee noted that the EU itself accepted that in 2015 alone 11,000 Afghans died in terrorist attacks.
Sweden and Germany are at the forefront of the accelerating returns. Afghans represent more than half of all refugees to have landed in . Last year 28% were granted asylum, compared with 91% of Syrian applicants. face the threat of repatriation.
In Germany, a political battle over Angela Merkel’s open doors approach, which was blamed for her poor election result this autumn, has turned migration policy on its head.
The German government has occasionally implicitly acknowledged the dangers of its Afghan policy by temporarily suspending enforced departures in the wake of terrorist incidents, including an in May.
But regional governments responsible for implementing migration policy have adopted different approaches. After a review this summer it was agreed “criminals, persons who may endanger public security and persons who persistently refuse to cooperate” would still be removed.
“This is a matter of internal politics,” said Heiko Habbe, a lawyer with Fluchtpunkt, a church-based legal aid centre in Hamburg. “Our government immediately announced deporting people after there was a rise in asylum seekers coming to Germany in October 2015. Then one month later we were told that some areas of Afghanistan were ‘safe’.
“In 2016 deportations started and it has no relation to the situation in Afghanistan, which has been deteriorating ever since, but it is being done to show the government is doing something about the migration crisis.”
Aware of the backlash over enforced deportation, the German government has offered a bonus to refused asylum seekers if they take up a special offer by February. Cash incentives in the form of travel expenses have long existed, but a new departure bonus is worth up to €3,000 per family.
With German rightwing newspapers ridiculing Merkel’s “national effort” to increase returns, some Christian Democrat politicians are demanding that the rate of deportations is increased and countries such as Syria be deemed safe countries soon. In the Social Democratic party there is a growing call, led by the foreign secretary, Sigmar Gabriel, to recognise that its electoral reverse was about a failure to address difficult issues of lost cultural identity.
Slowly but surely the welcome culture that marked out Germany in 2015 is giving way to a farewell culture. The biggest losers are likely to be Afghans.