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Avis: Europe must do more to ensure Afghan asylum seekers are not left in limbo

Avis: Europe must do more to ensure Afghan asylum seekers are not left in limbo
European governments should unequivocally cease all deportations of Afghan nationals to Afghanistan or to third countries considered ‘safe’

“I have no memories from Afghanistan, all of my life has been in exile.” Bahar’s (not her real name) lively eyes become darker as she narrates her refugee journey, which started 15 il y a des années.

Despite being an exceptionally bright student, fluent in English and grec with a passion for maths, it’s unlikely Bahar will be allowed to attend a Greek university next year. She and her family have been stranded on the Greek island of Lesvos for the last three years, waiting for a positive asylum decision inside a refugee camp.

le Talibans’s takeover of Afghanistan aggravates the uncertainty that many Afghan asylum seekers dans L'Europe  visage. Families such as Bahar’s live with the fear of a possible return to Afghanistan while waiting for their cases to be decided.

Bahar was just 3 years old when her parents left Herat, northern Afghanistan, fearing for their family’s safety. Like the majority of Afghans fleeing their country, her family first settled in a neighbouring country – Iran. After years of exile and precarity without receiving refugee status, they made the long and perilous journey to reach Europe; a place where the fundamental right to asylum seems only to be recognised and protected on paper.

Despite the risks that Bahar and her family face in their home country, the Greek asylum service has twice rejected their application for refugee status. Au lieu, they have been ordered to return to Turkey as a “safe third country” with a risk of onward deportation to Afghanistan.

Thousands of Afghans in other European countries live in a similar limbo: as of May 2021, 32,250 cases of Afghan asylum applicants were pending in Germany seule. In France, 18,515 people were waiting on a decision, while in Greece the numbers were 15,675. Arguably, such numbers are manageable given European states’ size and their functioning asylum systems. Au total, Europe only hosts less than 10% du 2.5 million UN-registered, displaced Afghans globally.

Neighbouring countries carry the burden of Afghanistan’s forced displacement, with Iran hosting almost 1 million Afghan refugees and Pakistan 1.5 million. These numbers double when adding undocumented or Afghan passport holders.

While 56 per cent of Afghans in Europe receive protection status, a large proportion remains in limbo in differing European countries’ asylum systems. National authorities often leave people waiting for months or even years to receive an asylum decision, et governments then insist on deporting unsuccessful applicants back to Afghanistan.

Only after the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, did some governments halt deportations to Afghanistan. Others still maintain deportation policies at the time of writing – such as L'Autriche, which has even suggested setting up “deportation centres” in countries neighbouring Afghanistan.

While European countries joined the international community in pledging support for “the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country,” their unwillingness to provide refuge to Afghans residing in their territory indicates that European governments fall far short of their statements.

In practice, the opposite seems to be the case as European countries securitise their responses and shut external borders – Greece’s metal wall at its border with Turkey clearly illustrates this hardline stance.

Following the Taliban takeover, French President Emmanuel Macron called for Europe to protect itself from “irregular migratory flows” from Afghanistan. De même, President of the European Council Charles Michel and EU Home Affairs Chief Ylva Johansson both confirmed the priority of securing European borders. Preventing people from reaching Europe seems to consistently trump humanitarianism and the right to asylum.

This disconnect is not anything new. At the national level, reports of illegal pushbacks on European land and sea borders alarmingly intensified in 2020, as authorities intercepted and sent migrants back to neighbouring countries without assessing asylum claims.

At the EU level, development aid to countries such as Afghanistan has been dependent on their governments’ adherence to the bloc’s migration objectives: preventing asylum seekers from reaching European borders and facilitating the repatriation of people refused asylum in Europe.

In the current moment, national authorities need to act promptly to improve the treatment of Afghans in limbo within their respective asylum systems. “I feel hopeless waiting in this camp for almost 3 years now. I want to get out, go to university, and start a normal life.” Stranded on Lesvos, Bahar should not wait for her future to start any longer.

European governments should unequivocally cease all deportations of Afghan nationals to Afghanistan or to third countries considered “safe”. en outre, national authorities should expedite pending Afghan asylum cases and family reunification cases, while also allowing for the re-examination of rejected asylum applications, given the change in domestic circumstances in Afghanistan. Appropriate funding and assistance are also needed to support integration.

Now more than ever, amid the chaotic US and NATO military retreat from Afghanistan, European countries must do more to ensure Afghan asylum seekers are not left in protracted limbo.

Anna Iasmi Vallianatou is a Stavros Niarchos Foundation Academy Fellow and Emily Venturi is a Schwarzman Academy Fellow, both at Chatham House