The agonizing return for Afghans deported from Europe (1/4)

"What are we supposed to do here"

Hafizullah, Shakib, Wali, Zamir and Aziz Gul… These five Afghans had all lived in Europe for several years before they were deported back to Kabul after being rejected asylum. But what kind of a life awaits them once they return to Afghanistan?

Claire Debuyser
By Published on : 2017/12/19 Latest update : 2017/12/21
Last year, Afghans constituted the second biggest group of migrants in Europe, following Syrians. In October 2016, the European Union and Afghanistan signed an agreement to facilitate the return of Afghan migrants whose asylum applications had been rejected. Since then, several European countries have either resumed, or accelerated, their deportations to the Asian nation whose government has agreed to accept such returns in exchange for financial aid.
Janzeb, Shakib and their fellow deported comrades sit in the restaurant section of the Kabul hotel where they can stay for up to two weeks.
"What are we supposed to do here"
Janzeb, Shakib and their fellow deported comrades sit in the restaurant section of the Kabul hotel where they can stay for up to two weeks.

Just a few moments ago, a plane touched down at Kabul’s international airport. In the soft morning light shining in through the windows in the arrival hall, families and small groups of men – many of them dressed in the traditional south-east Asian attire shalwar kameez - wait patiently for their loved ones to come through. Among the passengers are six Afghan men who have been deported from Norway. They’re the last to leave the terminal. They’re all aged in their twenties and carry no more than one small bag each.

Norway doesn’t cooperate with the Afghan ministry for refugees. Instead, Oslo has developed its own system of handling deportations by teaming up with a Kabul-based law firm. As the six men arrive at the airport, a lawyer representing the firm is there to greet them. The lawyer insists on staying anonymous, but allows us to come with him as he brings the new arrivals to a hotel situated on the last floor of a commercial centre in the heart of the Afghan capital. After checking in, the men have the right to stay at the hotel for up to a fortnight. “The room, the food, the internet and everything else like that is free for two weeks,” the lawyer says as we reach the hotel. Norwegian authorities will also hand each of the deportees the equivalent of €1,300 in cash and offer to foot the bill for any potential bus fair or airplane ticket if they wish to return to the provinces they originally come from.

Janzeb doesn’t know where he will go. It’s the first time that he sets foot in Afghanistan. Janzeb, like nearly three million other Afghan refugees, grew up in neighbouring Pakistan and his family still lives in Peshawar. “My family thinks I’m still in Norway,” Janzeb, who claims to have spent two years in the Scandinavian country, says. For him, nothing remains now but a sense of failure, and massive debts. “If I go to Pakistan, the people there who lent me money will ask me to pay it back. To go to Europe, I had to borrow $10,000 and I don’t have the means to pay that money back. What Norway is giving us is not nearly enough to reimburse my loans.”

Those deported arrive in a country that some of them have never known or lived in

Janzeb’s friend Shakib doesn’t know Kabul either. Wearing a white t-shirt and slim-fitting jeans, the 19-year-old was born in Iran. In order to reach Norway, he first had to cross Turkey, Bulgaria, Austria, Germany and Sweden. “After one year and four months, Norway rejected my asylum application and so I went to Germany. I stayed there for six months, but the Norwegian authorities had taken my fingerprints, and so I was sent back there. I was locked in a centre for one month, until today, when they deported me,” he says. “What are we supposed to do here? We’ve spent two or three years in Europe. We’ve gone to school and learned the language. I speak Norwegian, Dutch, and English; but here there’s nothing! Just war, and bombs, nothing else!”

Since 2015, Europe has faced an influx of migrants. The crisis prompted EU members to toughen their deportation policies, especially when it came to Afghans. According to Amnesty International, the number of deportees almost tripled between 2015 and 2016, jumping from 3,290 deportations to 9,460. In October 2016, the EU and Afghanistan signed an agreement to facilitate the returns. The agreement stipulated the return of some 80,000 Afghans whose asylum applications had been rejected. In exchange, Afghanistan would receive a total of €5 billion in aid until 2020.

According to the EU, “the big cities are relatively safe, including Kabul,” Franz-Michael Skjold Mellbin explains and who represented the EU in Afghanistan until August this year. “We’re living in a world, and at a time, where security has become relative. You could have bad luck in Kabul, just like you can have bad luck in Nice, Barcelona, London or Paris.”

Yet, the number of Afghan civilian victims reached a new record in 2016, with more than 11,400 civilians having been killed or injured. So far, 2017 seems to be showing the same pattern. According to the United Nations, Kabul is the most dangerous city for civilians in the country. On May 31, this year, a truck laden with explosives killed more than 150 people and injured hundreds more in the heart of Kabul’s diplomatic centre. In October, Amnesty International published a report titled “Afghanistan: Forced back to danger” and in which it called for a “moratorium” for the migrant deportations to Afghanistan.

Seated by a table with tea and traditional Afghan breads in the restaurant of the Kabul hotel where Janzeb, Shakib and their fellow deported comrades were taken two hours earlier, the discussion currently centres on one thing: Leaving. “With the money we’ll get from Norway, we’ll go together to Iran, then Turkey, and return to Europe,” Shakib explains. The others agree, and chime in: “We might go to Italy or France.” They’ll do anything, but stay in Afghanistan.

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Text and pictures : Claire Debuyser
Edtion in chief: Amara Makhoul, Marie Valla
Translation into enlgish: Louise Nordstrom