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“The younger generation is leaving the country”: migration from Afghanistan increasing?

September 8, 2015

Summary: Instability and uncertainty remain major problems for Afghanistan.  More evidence of migration of young Afghans away from their country.

Afghan map outlineAn interesting and worrying report from NBC News, highlighting what seems to be a surge in young Afghans leaving the country to escape the violence and to seek new life opportunities. Kabul bus station is witnessing a dramatic increase in the demand for seats on buses for border provinces (eg Nimruz in the country’s south west) as a springboard out.

NBC News, 5 September 2015: Business has never been better for Mohammad Nassir, a manager in the Afghan capital’s main bus station. And it fills him with grief.

“The young generation is leaving the country,” said Nassir, who works for Tolo Bus Services. “I see families saying goodbye to their loved ones for the last time and it breaks my heart.”
“I should be happy because for me business is booming — it has gone up by four times — but I am not happy at all,” he said.

Nassir is witnessing an Afghan exodus as civilians across the country flee spiraling violence and uncertainty. Until two months ago, between 15 and 20 buses, each carrying up to 55 passengers, set off for the border province of Nimruz every day. That number has jumped to between 70 and 80 buses, Nassir said.”

The report also quotes UN figures that support this:

“NBC News, 5 September 2015: While many are settling in neighboring countries, a growing number are making the arduous trip to Europe. According to the United Nation’s refugee agency UNHCR, 77,731 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe in the first six months of 2015 — up from 24,154 who did so in the same period in 2014. Afghans are second only to Syrians in claiming asylum in Europe, the UNHCR numbers show.
And on Thursday, the government’s Afghan government’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations said it had witnessed “unprecedented” levels of migration toward European countries.”

As a barometer for the country’s current and future prospects, this kind of information is valuable and alarming. It is caused by several interwoven factors:

Afghans are voting with their feet where, a few years ago, they were voluntarily electing to return.

And from the other persective, Afghans are resisiting returning to the country.  The issue of forced repatriation of Afghan refugees back to Afghanistan remains controversial for a country which is still experiencing great difficulties in providing resources and security for the existing population. The new Afghan Minister for Repatriation and Refugees, Mr. Hossein Alami Balkhi, issued an urgent appeal, in February 2015, for all countries to stop forced returns of Afghans. Mr Balkhi was particularly concerned about the plight of women and children, those with mental and physical problems, those who are particularly vulnerable and those being sent back to provinces still considered dangerous. Your client is likely to fall within these categories given his mental health and documented vulnerabilities along with coming from Kunar province which is dangerous as it remains a centre of significant activity for the Taliban.

In an interview with a Norwegian journalist on 21 February, the Minister explained himself thus (with my emphasis in bold, I have also lightly edited it for typos):

“Considering the current situation of Afghanistan we sent a letter through the foreign ministry to all those countries with whom the MOUs were signed to revise the MOUs and do not return anyone back to Afghanistan. whether they are single or with family, until we make new agreements. They shouldn’t deport anyone because we can’t take care of them here…I have long term plans, but we have to wait until we can execute those plans. I am sure if there are opportunities in Afghanistan, the Afghans will return back to their country voluntarily. We have requested the deporting countries through letters not to deport anyone, because we cannot take care of them here. Literally if they deport anyone back to Afghanistan we would not accept them in the airport and they will have to take them back. The reason behind doing this is that in the MOUs that were signed with receiving countries it was clearly stated that only those will be returned back to Afghanistan whose provinces are safe and they are able to live in those provinces. But most of the people who have been deported since now are from the provinces that are very dangerous to live in and it is impossible for the deportees to go and live in those provinces…It is not sensible to say that all these people should be returned back to Kabul. Norwegian authorities argue that if the provinces that the deportees come from are dangerous then they can be returned back to Kabul, because Kabul is safe. There is no logic behind this kind of statement. It is not possible to re-settle 7 million returnees who are living in exile only in Kabul. Kabul does not have the capacity to take care of this many returnees. It will also be insensible to say that only those who have been returned from Norway should be re-settled in Kabul. It is clearly stated in the MOUs that they should be re-settled back to the provinces they have come from, not Kabul.”

The Minister’s statements do not appear to have been converted into official government policy. But in June 2015, President Ashraf Ghani strongly echoed Minister Balkhi’s sentiments in a speech made on World Refugee Day, the 20th June. He noted the difficulties for those Afghans returning to the country from illegally seized properties, deprivation of rights and the lack of basic amenities available. In closing, he specifically mentioned the plight of Afghan asylum seekers in Europe:

“It is also worth mentioning that thousands of Afghans live as refugees in Europe, Australia, Canada, United States and other countries and have benefited from their hospitality and services. But recently an increasing number of Afghan refugees have faced the risk of getting expelled because of lack of documentation.

My request to those countries is to take into account our problems this year and stop expelling Afghan asylum seekers. The story of our refugees is a sad part of our modern history.” [1]

The European migration “crisis” is unlikely to end any time soon.

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