European nations are deporting to young Afghans who have never set foot in the country, or not lived there since they were infants.
An accelerated programme of forced removals this year resulted in several instances of the terrifying paradox in which young men are sent “home” to a country they do not know.
Ali Reza Azimi, 22, had never been to Afghanistan until German authorities deported him to Kabul. Arrested in on the morning of 5 December, he was in Kabul by 7 December with only what he wore.
“They didn’t let me even change my clothes,” he said, pointing out with a wry smile the mismatched socks he’d been sleeping in when the German police detained him.
Once he disembarked the SmartWings chartered flight at Kabul airport with 26 other young male deportees, Azimi was effectively left to fend for himself in a completely foreign land.
It was a year since his asylum application had been rejected, and seven years since he had fled Iran – the country where he was born and where his family has lived for the past 40 years – amid rumours Iran was rounding up Afghan refugees to form Shia militias, he said.
Another 26-year-old asylum seeker also removed from Germany and on the same flight had not been in Afghanistan since he was five. “I left and went to Iran then and it was when they tried to deport me and send me back to Afghanistan that I fled for Germany,” he told the Guardian before he left. “I am afraid because I think someone will kill me in Afghanistan.”
In , the Guardian has spoken to at least one Afghan who has received deportation orders despite never having been to Afghanistan.
“My parents were persecuted in Afghanistan because they were Hazaras,” said Moji, 17. “They took refuge in Iran before I was born and I have always lived there.” Since Moji’s family is undocumented, he is officially regarded as Afghan.
Europe has been criticised for that is one of the world’s most dangerous.
The International Organisation for (IOM) said that of the cases it was aware of, voluntary returns of Afghans from Europe halved this year compared with last year, while the number of forced deportations had more than doubled.
It recorded around 500 cases of forced deportations this year, compared with 200 in 2016, according to Masood Ahmadi, IOM Afghanistan’s national programme manager for return, reintegration, and resettlement.
“We do work a lot to encourage governments to give people opportunity to decide to return voluntarily. This in itself is a kind of ‘No to forced returns’. The reason is that it is not sustainable. It is not helpful,” Ahmadi said.
But not all voluntary returnees are voluntary.
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Husein Dad Adili, 25, said Swedish authorities forced him to sign a waiver declaring he voluntarily returned to Afghanistan after they threatened to deport him anyway. If he signed, he would receive support.
“They made me sign. They threatened me and said if I don’t cooperate the police will come arrest me and force me. This made me so crazy. What is the point of life to make this journey and to be this rejected?” Adili said. He had earlier talked about “the thousands of difficulties” of getting to , including witnessing the drownings of other asylum seekers after seeing three boats sink.
In early December, four weeks after his third appeal was rejected and after seeing a psychologist in group therapy at the behest of friends, Adili arrived in Kabul where he has no family. They had all fled Daikundi province in Iran more than a decade ago, except for a great uncle in Herat province whom he will try to join.
Adili says that when outdoors in Kabul he shakes uncontrollably at the sight of armed guards.
“Everyone [in the Europe camps] is like this,” he said. He pulled out a half-empty sheet of paracetamol tablets when asked if he had received treatment in any medical assessments for his psychological troubles.
A Kabul doctor who has met many deportees in the last three months said every single one had psychological problems that were not addressed.
“The handling [of these people] is totally making people sick,” the medic, who wanted to be known simply as Dr Ahmad, said. None had received proper treatment. He said Adili’s “prescription” of paracetamol was totally inadequate, treating the symptom, not the cause.
The EU tacitly forcing it to accept non-voluntary deportations or risk having aid slashed.
No such agreement exists with countries such as Iran, said Kabul-based migration expert Liza Schuster, rendering Afghanistan the destination for deportation despite it being completely foreign to these people.
“The Afghan government can refuse to issue travel documents if a person does not meet their criteria. But it is in a really weak position … The general attitude from the government is ‘But if we don’t we will be punished,’” she said.