EU. March 12, 2020. Thousands have been deported to Afghanistan in the past couple of years. Young boys without any social network, female heads of the household, elderly ill asylum seekers were deported from European states and families have been split. The European and Afghan government’s agreement on return to Afghanistan was extended from 8 European countries to many more after the Joint Way Forward deal was signed on 2nd October 2016. Since then, on one hand the number of deportation to Afghanistan has increased and on the other hand insecurity, political instability and humanitarian crisis have increased.
Originally published by kabulblogs.
Afghans have always been hopeful for a brighter and safer future in the country and were hopeful about a peace deal between the US – Taliban and Taliban – Afghans. The US and Taliban finally came to an agreement which was signed on 29th of February 2020 (Shereena Qazi, “Afghanistan’s Taliban, US signed agreement aimed at ending war’, Aljazeera, 29 Feb 2020). Unfortunately, the level of concern has increased among the Afghan civilians after the deal was signed. On 11th of March, only few days after the deal was made between the US – Taliban, Ashraf Ghani ordered release of 1500 Taliban fighters as the US had promised of releasing 5000 Taliban fighter that was agreed upon during the deal.
Many Afghan civilians, including myself are concerned about the outcome of such a deal and its impact on the lives of Afghan civilians, who have been the sole victim of this warfare throughout the years. The Afghan government states that they are releasing Taliban prisoners on conditions, one of which is a written statement not to hold gun again or fight against the Afghan government. History knows, Taliban have done this sort of promises before and have joined the Taliban fighters as soon as they were released, so this assurance is not worth the paper it is written on and the pretend to believe it is nothing but cynical. (Blatant lie.)
Since I am in direct contact with deportees and meet a couple of them in my office every day, I am more concerned for them than anyone else. Most of them have no social network, economic support and someone to rely on in case of an emergency. Even those who have relatives in the country or even in Kabul tend not to be welcome there. In a situation like this such vulnerability can be deadly anytime. There are further reasons that deportations should be stopped immediately.
After almost five months of waiting, the Independent Election Commission in a controversial statement announced Ashraf Ghani winner of the Afghan election ( Mujib Mashal, Najim Rahim and Fatima Faizi, ‘ Ghani named Afghan election winner: his opponent claims victory, too’ The New York Times, 18 Feb 2020). His opponent Abdullah Abdullah refused to accept the result claiming the votes in question weren’t examined well and therefore he was the president of Afghanistan, not Ashraf Ghani. European and US diplomats and the US special advisor Khalilzad spent hours with both the candidates to bring them at one table and find a solution to the crisis. After several attempts of reconciliation, they failed to come to a conclusion.
On 9th of March, both the opponents Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah held a dual ceremony declaring themselves winner of the election and the next president of Afghanistan (Shereena Qazi, ‘Ghani sworn in as Afghan president, rival holds his own inauguration ‘, Aljazeera, 9 March 2020). Blasts were heard, several rockets were fired towards the presidential palace while Ashraf Ghani was speaking to the crowd gathered to witness his oath taking ceremony (Michael Safi and Akhter Mohammad Makoii, ‘Blasts in Afghanistan as presidential rivals hold oath ceremonies’, The Guardian, 9 March 2020).
Since then, the level of anxiety among Afghans has risen considerably and people are concerned of the current political instability and fear the start of, god forbid, another civil war. In a situation like this, those recently deported from countries like Sweden, Germany and other European states are terrified and traumatized to be witnessing the situation. They don’t have family, relatives or someone they can count on and do not have any way of escape with no money in hand. Those who can afford to do so leave the country as soon as they can – legally or illegally. But those who can’t afford to escape are often stuck in Kabul in very bad and rough conditions.
Many still do not consider the virus any threat in Afghanistan, but one has to. The World Health Organization declared coronavirus a world pandemic. According to WHO “as of 11 March 2020, a total of 118,162 people have been confirmed to have contracted COVID – 19 and 4,290 people have reportedly died across 113 countries”.
The virus has spread across several continents now and has affected the social lives badly. Countries like Italy are on lockdown and Denmark has shut the schools and public gatherings. Iran with the highest number of people confirmed to be infected and lost their lives dead after China shares a border with Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the border between Afghanistan and Iran is still open and thousands have returned over the past couple of weeks. This includes those who return on their own, and those who are forcibly deported from Iran to Afghanistan. The Afghan Ministry of Public Health has confirmed 7 positive cases in Afghanistan, 5 of which are in Herat, the province bordering Iran and all of those who were proven to be infected had returned from Iran. However, as Afghanistan doesn’t have the means to test those suspected of being infected, the likely number of actual infections can be assumed to be no lower than in neighboring Iran.
As suggested by doctors and experts, the only way of lowering the risk of infection is to keep a good hygiene and stay away from crowded areas. Unfortunately, those deported are not in a position to do any of that. Those without social network and support are forced to live accommodations that are a health hazard even without a pandemic on the rise. In a situation like today where the risk of getting infected is that high, these “hotels” with its overcrowded rooms and no sanitary facilities in sight, the risk of the returnees getting infected is much higher than that of others. Even in the shelter we provide for deportees, many of them have to live together in one room. There is no possibility of keeping them all in separate rooms.
Therefore, looking at the overall situation and now the virus being declared a pandemic, I request all the European countries to immediately stop deportations to Afghanistan until further notice. This step should be taken to make sure the Afghans facing deportation remain in those European countries, where there is a chance to avoid infection and receive treatment where it is necessary. In Afghanistan, if they are infected, there will be a very slim chance they will survive looking at the absence of proper facilities in the country and the lack of food, proper housing and medical aid they are dealing with anyway.
Let’s forget our differences for some time and treat the pandemic as the global threat that is has become. For a moment, let’s forget that those in the detentions centers are Afghans and failed to get the right to stay in Europe for good, but treat them as humans at this time of need and make sure they receive the same level of treatment as European citizens and all the measure that need to be taken to ensure they have access to a clean and safe environment as well as medical care.
Let’s also give Afghans a chance and reason to regain hope that another civil war could be avoided for now. It is nothing but certain though. With no safe way to escape such a scenario, the responsibility for those sent back by force continues to remain with those European countries who insist on deportations while their joint diplomatic efforts have failed to end or at least mitigate this imminent threat so far.
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