Why Is Europe Sending Refugees Back to War-Torn Afghanistan?

Why Is Europe Sending Refugees Back to War-Torn Afghanistan?

Why you should care

Because things are not any better for Afghans at home.

A wave of insurgent attacks in recent weeks in Afghanistan has led both President Donald Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to call for an end to negotiations with the Taliban militant group and to intensify efforts on the battlefield.

After 16 years of fighting, Afghanistan is America’s longest war in history. In 2017, eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province was also the deadliest place on Earth for U.S. troops. Amid all the chaos live the Afghan people, who have suffered immensely over the past 40 years of nearly nonstop violence. Many who can manage to afford a smuggler opt to leave Afghanistan on an arduous journey through Iran into Turkey and over the Aegean Sea toward the Greek islands, where they hope to make it to the Greek mainland and head north to one of the more prosperous and supposedly friendly EU countries.

Britain and many other EU nations continue to deport Afghans with the claim that “Afghanistan is safe.”

As the U.S. intends to escalate the war in Afghanistan, EU leaders engaged in forced refugee returns are sending a message that Afghanistan is somehow safe. Such efforts translate into deportations of Afghans back to an ongoing war — leaving thousands in an impossible situation.

A Deadly Week

The death toll from a recent car bomb attack in Kabul rose above 100, and another 235 people were injured in the massive explosion that blew out windows several blocks away. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the targets were police and government officials, but eyewitnesses, video and picture documentation suggest that the attack was geared for maximum carnage.

The Taliban managed to pack an ambulance to the brim with explosives and pass through at least one security checkpoint near the former Ministry of Interior compound by claiming to have an ill patient in tow. The ambulance was stopped at the next security checkpoint, where the suicide bomber detonated his payload and sent a huge plume of smoke into the sky that could be seen across the city.

This tragedy came on the heels of another Taliban attack at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, where Taliban members reportedly infiltrated the building over the course of a week or so by presenting themselves as ordinary guests of the hotel. Once fully ensconced, the attackers opened fire on hotel guests, killing mainly Afghans while specifically targeting foreign guests. The attackers went floor to floor seeking those they had been watching in previous days. In all, 22 people were killed, bringing the number of deaths inside Kabul city in one week to a whopping 127.

Nowhere to Run

Although activists, researchers, humanitarians and journalists agree that Afghanistan is not a safe place by any measure, Britain and many other EU nations continue to deport Afghans with the claim that “Afghanistan is safe” and that Afghans seeking a better life in Europe are not true refugees but instead merely “economic” or “irregular” migrants. This is setting the stage for a backdoor deportation process that would’ve been deemed illegal under international law had the EU not first demoted Afghans from refugee status — making this process and the policy racist and devoid of any on-the-ground facts.

“The numbers show that there has never been a more dangerous time for Afghans since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 — the most recent U.N. figures indicate record-high civilian fatalities,” says Barin Sultani Haymon, an independent London-based researcher. “Even if one accepts as legitimate the idea of mass economic-migrant outflows from Afghanistan, the obvious underlying push factor is the absence of a stable economy and, consequently, the utter lack of a viable job market … No matter how you might wish to categorize the problem, it all boils down to security in Afghanistan,” she adds. International charity Oxfam has railed against the deportations, noting that “forced returns remain irresponsible.”

Using right-wing talking points and fake news reports, European leaders and an increasingly fascist far right have been able to stir up anti-refugee hysteria across the continent, creating widespread support for an inhumane deportation policy of Afghans.

President Trump, meanwhile, says, “There isn’t any talking to the Taliban; we don’t want to talk to the Taliban. We are going to finish what we have to finish.”

With no signs of peace at home, and no sanctuary abroad, Afghans continue to be forced to live in an impossible situation.

Mohammed Harun Arsalai is an independent journalist and co-founder of Documenting Afghanistan.


Interviews, op-eds, and analysis to help you make sense of the news of the day and the news of the future.