European governments return nearly 10,000 Afghans to risk of death and torture

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6 Oct 2017
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Refugees and Migrants

European governments have put thousands of Afghans in harm’s way by forcibly returning them to a country where they are at serious risk of torture, kidnapping, death and other human rights abuses, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

At a time when civilian casualties in Afghanistan are at their highest levels on record, European governments including Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany are forcing increasing numbers of asylum-seekers back to the dangers from which they fled, in violation of international law.

Afghans forcibly returned from Europe include unaccompanied children and young adults who were children at the time when they arrived in Europe.

Forcible returns and civilian casualties soar

The numbers of forcible returns from Europe have soared at a time when civilian casualties recorded by the UN are at their highest levels.

According to official EU statistics, between 2015 and 2016, there was nearly a 300% increase in the numbers of Afghans returned by European countries to Afghanistan: from 3,290 to 9,460. The returns correspond to marked fall in recognition of asylum applications, from 68% in September 2015 to 33% in December 2016.

Killed, injured and living in fear of persecution

Amnesty International researchers interviewed several families who hauntingly described their ordeals after being forcibly returned from European countries.

Sadeqa (not her real name) and her family fled Afghanistan in 2015 after her husband Hadi was kidnapped, beaten and released in return for a ransom. Hazarding a months-long journey, they arrived in Norway with hopes of finding a safe future. The Norwegian authorities denied their asylum claim and gave them a choice between being detained before being deported or being given EUR 10,700 to return “voluntarily.”

A few months after returning to Afghanistan, Sadeqa’s husband disappeared. Days passed without any knowledge of his whereabouts. Hadi had been killed. Sadeqa believes his kidnappers murdered him and now even fears visiting his grave.

The Farhadi family were also forcibly returned from Norway, in October 2016. The following month they were near a mosque in Kabul when it was bombed, killing at least 27 people. At the blast, Subhan Farhadi, then two years old, fell from his mother’s arms and was injured. When the family returned home, Subhan began to bleed from his ears. He continues to suffer pain in one ear.

Farid fled Afghanistan alone to Norway, where he converted to Christianity. In May 2017, he was deported to Kabul. Now, he lives in fear of persecution, in a country where armed groups including the Taliban have targeted people for converting to a different faith from Islam.

“A poisoned cup”

Far from being ignorant of the dangerous situation in Afghanistan, European governments recognized it when the European Union (EU) signed “Joint Way Forward” on immigration issues, an agreement to return Afghan asylum-seekers.

In a leaked document, EU agencies acknowledged Afghanistan’s “worsening security situation and threats to which people are exposed,” as well as the “record levels of terrorist attacks and civilian casualties”. However, they callously insisted that “more than 80,000 persons could potentially need to be returned in the near future.”

There is credible evidence that this “need” was expressed in the form of pressure on the Afghan government. Ekil Hakimi, Afghanistan’s Finance Minister, told parliament: “If Afghanistan does not cooperate with EU countries on the refugee crisis, this will negatively impact the amount of aid allocated to Afghanistan.”

Similarly, a confidential Afghan source with knowledge of the agreement described it to Amnesty International as “a poisoned cup” the Afghanistan government was forced to swallow in exchange for aid.

5 OCTOBER 2017

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