People deported to Afghanistan face dire security and economic challenges upon their return that make them vulnerable to radicalization, a study published on Wednesday concludes.
Interviews with dozens of people deported from Europe over an eight-month period in 2018 reveal that increased violence across Afghanistan compounds the plight of returnees who receive little reintegration help from the Afghan government or the international community.
Medico International and the Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization (AHRDO), which conducted the study, are now calling on Germany and its partners in Europe to halt deportations to Afghanistan. People returned to the country are left economically destitute, in danger of attacks and vulnerable to recruitment efforts by the nation’s many insurgent groups, the study concludes.
“Deportations have to cease immediately because we are violating their human rights,” Hadi Marifat, executive director of AHRDO, told DW. “Germany doesn’t deport Syrians, but it does Afghans. It’s not taking into consideration that deportees could be killed at any moment in the country”
Most violent country
In 2019, Afghanistan was ranked the most violent country in the world by the Global Peace Index.Afghan forces, which took over control of domestic security from US and international forces in 2014, cannot keep the Taliban at bay. The extremist group currently controls over 40% of the country.
The United Nations estimates that 10 million Afghans need emergency humanitarian assistance. The situation has only worsened in the months since US-led peace talks with the Taliban deteriorated and the nation elected a new president. More than 400 civilians were killed in July alone, making it the deadliest month on record since the UN began tracking civilian casualties in 2009.
“We currently see that political dynamics in Afghanistan directly translate into violence,” Conrad Schetter, an expert on Afghanistan with the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), told DW. “There is not much hope that the situation will improve.”
Last year, the UN Refugee Agency deemed Kabul too dangerous for resettling people who had been deported, and Amnesty International charged that nations that deport people to Afghanistan are violating international law.
Even so, EU nations have deported about 20,000 Afghans since 2015, according to Eurostat. More than half of them returned voluntarily as part of programs that guarantee resettlement funds. In Germany, returnees to Afghanistan can receive up to €1,000 ($1,100).
Where funds cannot convince individuals to leave on their own, governments around Europe have vowed more consequential deportation efforts.
An express goal of Germany’s incoming European Council presidency is to streamline the deportation process to ensure that there is “never a repeat” of the year 2015. That summer, Chancellor Angela Merkel kept open the nation’s borders to about 1 million displaced people sparking a political backlash that continues.
Last month, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that Germany would also be reassessing the security situation in Syria and other countries to determine whether deportations might be possible.
“Just like in Afghanistan, there are of course regions in Syria in which one can live relatively safely,” Seehofer said, adding that deportations were not yet an option. “At the end of the year we will carry out a reassessment of the security situation with the Foreign Ministry.”
Risk of radicalization
The Medico/AHRDO study paints a completely different picture from the interior minister’s: “You don’t see places where people can go that are safe, even in the cities,” Marifat said. “You never know when and where an attack will happen.”
Fifty-eight percent of the study’s participants reported that they were unable to return to their communities of origin because they felt unsafe. Another 10% are still moving from place to place in order to survive.
For those who do manage to settle somewhere, making ends meet is difficult, the study found. The average cost of each person’s journey to Europe was $11,120 — 17 times more than the nation’s per capita income of $642 in 2018.
Often indebted, unemployed and experiencing psychological stress from the trauma of their travels and being deported, many find themselves ostracized from their communities and receive little assistance from Afghanistan’s government. “The first thing they experience is complete shock,” Marifat said. “It takes some time to explain that they’re in a different reality, that they won’t get back to Germany.”
Read more: Sent back to a war zone
Once they come to terms with that reality, they have little means to air their grievances in a state where they fear reprisal for speaking out. That makes them especially vulnerable to radicalization by the country’s many insurgent groups, the study concludes.
“They went to Europe with big hopes and now they’re being alienated. How do they develop their own future?” said Schetter, who believes that Germany should halt deportations to Afghanistan and apply more humanitarian criteria to its policies.
“Frustration about the current policies push people in the direction of extremist groups,” Schetter said. “This is a situation that only leads to further deterioration.”