Nation

Europe is called ‘willfully blind’ to risks Afghan deportees face

KABUL — After the northern Afghan city of Kunduz fell to the Taliban in 2015, Naqibullah, 23, set off for Europe. He had worked as a contracted mechanic for the Afghan forces, and he knew the Taliban would come for him. He spent $8,000, and risked getting shot by Iranian border guards and braving turbulent Mediterranean waters to reach Germany.

But in Germany, a country that for years has had troops in northern Afghanistan as part of the NATO coalition, Naqibullah did not qualify for asylum, even as the Taliban entered Kunduz for a second time and overran most of it while his case was being processed.

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Five months ago, he was sent back to Afghanistan.

“I am back, working in a mechanic shop,” said Naqibullah, who, like many Afghans, goes by one name. “But we live with the fear of what could happen if Kunduz falls again.”

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Naqibullah is among thousands of asylum-seekers who have been returned to Afghanistan from Europe, according to an Amnesty International report released Thursday. The deportations — roughly 10,000 in 2016 alone, tripling from the year before — have continued even as Afghanistan’s security situation has deteriorated and civilian casualties have reached record numbers.

In the scathing report, the rights organization said that European countries had remained “willfully blind” to the dangers of returning the thousands of Afghan asylum-seekers, including children. The group called on the nations to impose a moratorium on sending people back until security in Afghanistan improves.

“Returns are increasing, even as dangers in the country have become more severe,” the report said. “Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or injured, and a wide range of people are at additional risk of other serious human rights violations such as persecution or torture.”

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In deciding asylum cases, the report said that European countries “arbitrarily” consider some parts of Afghanistan safe. Even when the authorities recognize that a person’s home province might not be safe, they say he or she could merely relocate to a safer place elsewhere in the country. The reality, Amnesty International said, is that “no part of the country can be considered safe.”

United Nations statistics paint a grim picture not only of the country’s violence, where officials report varying degrees of fighting across 20 of the 34 Afghan provinces, but also of the acute humanitarian crisis the deportees return to.

About 25,000 civilians were killed and 45,000 others injured by fighting between 2009 and 2016, which was the highest year for such casualties on record. In the first six months of 2017, violence killed close to 1,700 people and left 3,600 others injured. About 20 percent of those casualties happened in Kabul, the nation’s capital.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that about 9 million people would need humanitarian assistance in the country this year, with about 2 million internally displaced by fighting and natural disasters.

The Amnesty report said European countries had pressured the Afghan government, which is heavily dependent on donor money, to take back its citizens. The European Union and Afghanistan signed a document, “The Joint Way Forward,” last year, with the Afghan government agreeing to admit its citizens who did not receive asylum in Europe. A leaked draft of the document acknowledged the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, but said “more than 80,000 persons” could be returned to the country.

“If Afghanistan does not cooperate with EU countries on the refugee crisis, this will negatively impact the amount of aid allocated to Afghanistan,” the report quotes the country’s finance minister, Eklil Hakimi, as telling the Afghan parliament.

Germany topped the list of most deportations last year, sending back 3,440 Afghans.

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