Why are European countries fixated on deporting Afghan nationals?

20 August 2021: StatusNow4All: Europe has deported 71,065 people back to Afghanistan since 2009

The UK figure is the highest: 15,755 people between 2008 and 2020

Have European nations ever valued the lives of the Afghans that sought sanctuary on its soil?  Their actions tell us ‘No’. Very many injustices and ill-treatment are being endured by Afghan people alongside many others in the UK asylum system, as most harrowingly demonstrated in the death on Wednesday of a five-year-old Mohammed in Sheffield.

Further afield, at the same time as knowing that Afghanistan was enduring a humanitarian crisis, European governments designated some parts of the country as ‘safe areas’ to drive their justification of continuing deportations. Vice News reports that over the past 12 years, Europe has deported 71,065 people back to Afghanistan. This has occurred despite a fragile situation on the ground, with an average of 20% of Afghan districts under Taliban rule and, from 2015 to 2020, a further 40% contested by both the Taliban and the Afghan government. Between 2008 to 2020, the UK repatriated 15,755 Afghans – the most of any European country.  

There was a spike in deportations in 2016.  This was the year that the EU signed an agreement with the Afghan government to allow its countries to deport an unlimited number of refugees and compelling Afghanistan to accept them. During negotiations, the EU threatened to strip Afghanistan of Aid if it did not cooperate. In this same year, through a Status Now signatory organisation, the direct exposure of the specific dangers facing young men from Afghanistan who had interpreted for the British Army – working directly with Prince Harry in fact – and who were now trapped in Calais after fleeing from the Taliban, was revealed through a headlining Channel Four News item. Its introduction panders to a simplistic notion of ‘economic migrants’ as distinct from ‘genuine refugees’ before making explicit that the UK’s military use of Afghan translators and interpreters is highly dangerous for the people it leaves behind.  Now, five years later, callous disregard and indifference towards those lives are once more in the spotlight through the UK Foreign Secretary’s most recent dereliction of elected duty.  

Following the fall of the Afghan government, several UK immigration lawyers and charities have reported many cases of Afghan clients who were never listened to by the Home Office and the courts, including Status Now signatory Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit. 

On Wednesday, our signatory Positive Action in Housing highlighted the case of a 24-year-old Afghan asylum seeker whose appeal was brazenly refused by an immigration tribunal judge concluding: “In these circumstances, I do not conclude that the Appellant has shown that there is a real risk on return to Afghanistan and Kabul in particular. Internal relocation is a reasonable option.” 

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action tweeted: “The UK has forcibly removed tens of thousands of Afghans back to Afghanistan in the past decade. Until 2016 there were monthly charter flights, delivering people back to grave risks and to the catastrophe we are now seeing unfold.” 

Yesterday the Home Office published a factsheet on the resettlement routes for Afghan nationals while insisting that under its: “Nationality and Borders Bill, it will become a criminal offence to knowingly arrive in the UK illegally without permission to be here”. 

Sabir Zazai, CEO of Scottish Refugee Council in a series of tweets urged the UK government not to criminalise refugees who come to the UK as he did, via ­“irregular routes” such as crossing the Channel and must not face the threat of being sent back to Afghanistan: “The crisis in Afghanistan calls for a change in the UK government’s attitudes and overall approach to refugees. We cannot tell a refugee mother with a child arriving on our shores that she has committed a crime. There’s no official office of the Taliban or other regimes to give people visas, there never has been, that’s why we have the Refugee Convention.”  

Shabnam Nasimi, director of Conservative Friends of Afghanistan, has begged Home Secretary Priti Patel to grant asylum to the ‘3000 Afghans with open asylum cases’ in the UK.

The crisis in Afghanistan necessitates a seismic shift in the UK government’s attitudes and the overall approach of European governments to those seeking sanctuary in Europe. It is not in the distant past that Germany took almost 1 million refugees. It is obscene for the UK to promise 20,000 refugees over a period of 5 years with no guarantees.  As one of the Status Now Reference Group members has just observed, “It is always a waiting game, with everything in this system, and it is a deliberate policy that is hoping that the people will give up on waiting.”  

We will give up: when we have achieved #statusnow4all #healthandsafety4all.  

Read the full Vice report here