No Afghans Wanted: The U.S., EU, and Turkey Slam the Door on Vulnerable Refugees

By Jasin Murati, Eurasia Advocacy Team Member, Amnesty International USA

Most of us don’t know how we would react if we were ushered onto a bus or plane at gun point and taken to a war zone. Thankfully, most of us will never have to find out. Yet many Afghan refugee families fear this scenario daily.

According to the UNHCR, Afghan refugees represent the second largest protracted refugee situation in the world after Syrians. Over 4.5 million registered and unregistered Afghan refugees eke out a transitory existence in Iran and Pakistan where they struggle against routine discrimination and suffocating poverty. Many of those who make the perilous trek west find only temporary relief. Amnesty International has documented how authorities in the EU and Turkey routinely deport Afghans to a violent war zone in contravention of international law and basic human decency. Meanwhile, the U.S. has shut its doors to a population fleeing the violence it helped create. Afghan refugees are human beings with hopes and dreams. They face unimaginable danger but, collectively, they have become a great unwanted population.

Amnesty has documented some of their struggles. The government of Norway has made no secret about its desire to deport Taibeh Abbasi, a teenager, to an active war zone. She was born in Iran after her parents fled violence in their native Afghanistan. Subject to discrimination and intolerance, Taibeh and her brother travelled by foot to Norway hoping to find refuge. Their efforts paid off in 2012, when her family was granted refugee status and residency in the Scandinavian state. For the first time in her life, Taibeh was free to dream. She hoped to become a doctor. Three years later, however, that dream would be seriously threatened. The Norwegian Immigration Board revoked her family’s visa and insisted that the family return to war-torn Afghanistan. Norwegian officials cited that Afghanistan is finally safe and that the family should return to the country they originally came from. Yet, Taibeh has never stepped foot in Afghanistan and now is fighting off a deportation order to preserve the life she struggled to find.

Unfortunately, thousands of Afghan refugees face a similar situation to Taibeh. In Europe, governments are revoking refugee visas and accepting fewer applicants for asylum at an unprecedented rate. An Amnesty Report found that the amount of Afghans returned to Afghanistan from Europe nearly tripled between 2015 and 2016. Once they return, they face severe risks. LGBT refugees or those who convert from Islam to another faith face threats of kidnapping, torture, other abuses, and death. Families sent back to Afghanistan are oftentimes relocated to cities and communities with which they have no prior connection.

According to the European Union, 110,764 Afghans currently reside in Turkey. Yet, Turkey has taken aggressive steps to forcibly deport thousands of asylum-seekers. Amnesty unveiled that just this past April, Turkey returned over 7,500 Afghans to Afghanistan and arrested an additional 2,000 others who are awaiting the same fate. Amnesty documented how Turkish authorities round up Afghan asylum seekers, often with their small children, and force them to sign “voluntary” documents acceding to their repatriation. The documents are written in Turkish and the signatories do not get a translation. Their requests for a copy of the document are denied. Some have refused to sign; they were deported anyway.

Governments across Eurasia are deporting refugees to Afghanistan en masse. Yet, Afghanistan is experiencing more violence than ever before. The United Nations found that in 2017, roughly a hundred people were killed in Afghanistan every day. The same study found that in 2016 there were 11,418-recorded civilian casualties inside Afghanistan. To overcome the logic of these statistics, European governments have relied on claiming that Kabul (the city to which most Afghans are deported) is safe. Yet Amnesty’s research has conclusively demonstrated that this is fiction. One woman who spoke to Amnesty fled to Norway with her husband after he was threatened, beaten and released for ransom. Their asylum claim was denied. Upon their return to Kabul, her husband was killed, most likely by the group who had originally abducted him.

While U.S. military intervention has strongly contributed to the security challenges in Afghanistan, the Trump administration has turned its back on Afghan refugees. The new National Defense Authorization Act, currently before Congress, allocates over $5,100,000,000 for Afghanistan’s security forces in the fiscal year 2019. While the U.S. government has plenty of funds for Afghanistan’s military, almost no resources are dedicated to welcoming and assisting the country’s civilian refugee population. Only 2,664 Afghans were accepted in 2016, representing .001 percent of Afghanistan’s 2.5 million registered refugees. In addition, the Wall Street Journal found that the United States only accepted about 5,000 refugees from around the world during the first three months of 2018. At this rate, the U.S. will fail to hit its yearly refugee ceiling of 45,000. This is especially troubling given that the ceiling, originally at 110,000 during Obama’s administration, is at its lowest level since the 1980’s.

The United States should raise the current refugee ceiling to at least 75,000. This will create critical space for Afghan refugees to find safety in the U.S. and demonstrate that the U.S. government is not abandoning this vulnerable group. Additionally, the U.S. should maintain and increase the humanitarian aid and assistance provided for migrants and refugees worldwide. Amnesty has made recommendations for specific funding levels that would let the U.S. provide critical assistance to Afghan and other refugees abroad.

The governments of Europe, Turkey, and the U.S., are content with allowing the plight of Afghan refugees to remain someone else’s problem. This policy requires them to believe elaborate fantasies: Kabul is safe, deportations are voluntary, other countries’ generosity will annul their own parsimony. So long as the EU, the U.S., and Turkey refuse to assist these refugees and, in some cases, directly place them in harm’s way, millions of real people will suffer in the shadows, unwanted by the world.

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