For dozens of Afghan asylum seekers in Germany, an interview at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) is a decisive moment that shapes their future. Despite serious security concerns, many asylum applications by Afghans are rejected.
Bibigul (name changed to protect identity) lives with her family in Cologne, the fourth-largest city in Germany. "I have lived all my life like this, with my family," the 24-year-old from Afghanistan says. She tries to chase away thoughts that the situation might change, because her asylum application has been rejected.
Bibigul's family came to Germany as refugees one and a half years ago. She says that the day when they fled to neighboring Iran, she thought they would be back home in a few days or months. She never imagined that Germany would be their final destination. "I planned to become the foreign minister and I studied for that," says Bibigul. "I planned a lot of things for my life in Kabul and I miss the time when I worked very hard to ensure I had a good future, but now everything has finished and everything has changed," she added.
Her family did not find support in Iran. "Iran's police took away Afghan refugees and if someone did not have documents, they deported them to Afghanistan," explains Bibigul. Fearing deportation, Bibigul’s family lived in hiding. After a while, they fled to Turkey and then to Germany.
After applying for asylum in Germany, Bibigul’s family members were granted refugee status. However, she got a negative verdict. According to officials, the interview did not reveal that the young woman would be persecuted upon her return to Afghanistan. Bibigul would now have to either leave Germany or find a lawyer and appeal the decision in the court.
Safe areas in Afghanistan
Bibigul is silent when asked about the reason why her family had to flee their home country. She explains that because her case is in court, she cannot reveal all details. "After what happened to my family in Kabul, in one of its big neighborhoods, I cannot go back," she says, adding, "I would be killed."
According to the German government, Kabul is one of the safe areas of Afghanistan. The law says that if a person can find an alternative safe place inside the country, he or she should not be granted asylum. The discussion about safe areas in Afghanistan has consequently contributed to a drop in the number of Afghans who were granted asylum in Germany. In 2015 it was 78 percent and until November 2016, it was still above 60 percent. This year is the lowest so far, at 47.9 percent for January and February.
"To go back [to Afghanistan] for an active and single woman is impossible," says Bibigul. "It’s not a European country, it's not safe," she adds. After she was told that her asylum was rejected, Bibigul tried to find a lawyer as soon as possible and filed documents against the decision.
Bernd Mesovic, deputy director and expert on legal affairs at PRO ASYL, says that the growing numbers of declined Afghan asylum seekers is part of Germany’s strategy. "It’s a policy which acts to deter Afghans who might bear in their minds to flee to Europe and Germany in the future," he says. Currently, people from Afghanistan are the second-largest refugee group in Germany after Syrians.
Mesovic disagrees with the idea that there are so-called "safe areas" in Afghanistan. "The security situation has become more and more difficult in even more provinces and districts of the country," he says, adding, "Afghan refugees have even more reasons to flee."
No time for refugees' stories
The asylum procedure is long. However, the most important step is an interview at the BAMF’s office where refugees explain the reasons why they fled their home country. Bibigul says it is a puzzling procedure. The first thing that confused the young woman was the statement that the answer had to be a yes or a no, or a very short one, because the officers did not have time.
"How can people do this?" she asks. "It’s someone’s life. How do they not have time for someone’s life? I don’t understand." Now, Bibigul is able to reflect on what happened, but when she went for her interview, she thought the officer already knew her story because she was expected to give short answers. This was another thing she heard from people who had been through this procedure before.
Bibigul was also disappointed with the officials who interviewed her. "They didn’t know anything about Afghanistan," she said, adding that they needed to learn more. "They should look on the internet for information."
Bibigul's interview took an hour and a half. According to BAMF, the interview should be carried out in language which is the best known for the asylum seeker. Bibigul speaks Dari, however, the translator assigned to work with her was from Iran and was speaking Persian. Bibigul said that first of all it took time for her and translator to understand each other before she could answer the officials' questions.
Anna Busl, a lawyer based in Bonn, works with almost one hundred people seeking asylum in Germany. Busl’s experience shows that Bibigul is not alone, and thousands of Afghans are filing lawsuits against BAMF decision in the area.
"The court, for example in Cologne, has so many appeals of Afghan refugees that they say it will take years; it will take a lot of time to come to the court and to have a hearing there," she explains.
Busl has read many transcripts of interviews of the asylum seekers and says she repeatedly sees the same flaws. "It seems that person who made an interview and also made a decision has not really good understanding of, firstly, what does it mean to have an interview with a refugee and, secondly, what is the situation in Afghanistan."
As more and more asylum applications get rejected, the final decisions are simply copied and pasted from one case to another without making any connections with the individual story, the lawyer says. This is one of the reasons why Busl thinks the most of appeals can be successful.
Currently the BAMF has approximately 8,300 employees - around 2,550 of these are decision makers. Kira Gehrmann, a spokesperson from the Federal Office, confirmed that in some cases the person who conducted the interview is not responsible for the decision and in these cases the decision is being made by a decision maker in one of four decision centers.
Julia Scheurer from the Flüchtlingsrat NRW e.V, an NGO advocating for refugees rights, has also noticed problems in the structure of interviews in the asylum procedure. "For us, it is really important that the person who decides on the case also has a possibility to get an impression of the person, to see the emotion, to actually interact with a person, not only to read a protocol and written transcript of the interview,” says Scheurer.
"That is what is happening now because there are just so many asylum seekers here and so many interviews have to be done so they (BAMF) have divided the process," she adds.
Meanwhile, Busl says asylum seekers - especially those who are appealing their rejections - should work on improving their skills as they wait for a decision from the courts. "The only advice I can give to them is to use the time for getting ahead in their life, which means to learn German, to get a job, to study, do whatever they want to do with their life, because otherwise they may just sit here for months."
Author: Zivile Raskauskaite