Dozens of asylum seekers were expelled from Europe to Afghanistan this week, the first to be affected by a that allows the EU to deport unlimited numbers of rejected Afghan asylum seekers.
A plane carrying 34 Afghans from touched down in Kabul before dawn on Thursday. On another, earlier in the week, 13 Afghans were forcibly returned from Sweden in a deportation that reportedly cost about $150,000 (£120,000). That flight also carried nine Afghan citizens from Norway.
EU signs deal to deport unlimited numbers of Afghan asylum seekers
For Matiullah Aziz, 22, the deportation ended a seven-year stay in Germany. It came without warning. Aziz said police came to the pizza parlour where he worked, told him to pack his things and detained him the same evening. A fluent German speaker, he carried certificates showing that, though not granted asylum, he had studied in the country for several years.
The chartered plane was meant to transport 50 asylum seekers, the maximum allowed on each flight according to the agreement, but 16 were removed from the flight list shortly before take-off, reportedly due to psychiatric issues and last-minute legal intervention.
On Wednesday, demonstrators gathered in Frankfurt airport and German politicians by brandishing placards demanding an end to the deportations.
The German government roughly 12,500 Afghans. The next chartered flight to Kabul is believed to be scheduled for early January.
has stepped up forced returns, with unaccompanied minors allegedly among those affected.
Imran Sakhel, who was deported this week after more than a year in Norway, said the authorities doubted the veracity of documents that state he is 17.
For European countries, deportations are partly an attempt to deter migrants. Afghans applied for asylum in Europe last year, most in Germany and Sweden.
However, the men who landed in Kabul on Thursday were not recent arrivals to . Everyone the Guardian spoke to had lived in Germany for at least four years. They now returned to a country that has become more dangerous since they left.
“I lived like a German. I had an apartment, I paid my taxes,” said Zabiullah Noori, 23. When he left his home in Kunduz six years ago, the city was peaceful. Since then, it has fallen twice to the Taliban. The highway there is beset by fighting and sporadic insurgent checkpoints.
“I’m very afraid. Look at my clothes,” Noori said. Like most of the returnees adjusting to Kabul in the early morning darkness, he would stand out as soon as he left the airport in his European attire of sneakers, skinny jeans and leather jacket.
“I don’t know how to get to Kunduz. If the Taliban stop the car and see my documents, they will cut off my head,” Noori said.
The returnees said German authorities had not given them financial assistance. In Kabul, the International Organisation for Migration gave them 1,500 Afghanis (£18) for onward travel, and offered temporary accommodation.
Afghanistan is already straining under the weight of close to a million people returned or and Iran this year, according to the UN. The deportations from Europe are likely to compound unemployment and the economic crisis. Most returning migrants simply leave again.
Young men who have spent half a decade or more in Europe, and perhaps lived in Iran or Pakistan before that, often have nothing to return to in Afghanistan, said Abdul Ghafoor, director of the Migrants Advice and Support Organisation.
“It is not safe for those who have been deported to go back to their provinces. Most of them don’t have families here,” he said.
Returning to Afghanistan “is a major shock to the system if you’re not cushioned by family”, said Liza Schuster, a Kabul-based migration expert.
“From what I’ve seen, about 80% leave within the first two years. The rest leave within the next five,” she said, adding that her research is based on samples. “The problem is, if they’re sent back against their will, they haven’t been able to put any support structure in place.”
“What’s lacking here is anything to anchor Afghans,” Schuster said. “So until the government creates the chance to get a good education and have some kind of future afterwards, not all, but a significant minority are simply waiting to go.”
As the sun rose over Kabul international airport, Noor Jan, 23, stepped outside to light a cigarette. Before the German police handcuffed him and took him to the airport, he had spent four years in Germany and, prior to that, four in Greece.
“You tell me, what I should do now,” he said.