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IRIN News, June 5, 2009

Sharp rise in attempted illegal migration of Afghans to Europe

MoRR estimates about 500,000 Afghan refugees live in EU countries and over three million in Pakistan and Iran.

KABUL - Azizullah Ahmadi told IRIN in Kabul how his son Majid, aged 25, paid US$10,000 to a smuggler to take him to a European country where he wanted to start a better life. But his son drowned in the Mediterranean before reaching Greece in 2008.

Intensifying insecurity, unemployment and poor economic opportunities in Afghanistan
Intensifying insecurity, unemployment and poor economic opportunities in Afghanistan have contributed to the rise in asylum seekers. (Photo: Salih/IRIN)

“He was very disappointed here [in Afghanistan] and believed Europe would give him a prosperous life,” Ahmadi said, adding that his son had borrowed a lot of money for the trip.

Facing unemployment, insecurity and lack of socio-economic opportunities at home, many Afghans, mostly young males, have increasingly resorted to costly and perilous illegal migration to European and other industrialized countries.

Over 18,000 Afghan asylum-seekers were registered in 44 industrialized states in 2008 - a significant increase on previous years, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

“With 18,500 asylum applications submitted by Afghans in 2008, the number is at its highest since 2002 [29,400] and is almost double the figure of the year before [10,000],” said a UNHCR report entitled Asylum levels and trends in industrialized countries in 2008.

“The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan is likely to be the main reason, along with lack of economic opportunities,” Ron Redmond, a UNHCR spokesman in Geneva, told IRIN.

Some 80,000-85,000 Afghans applied for asylum in 2000-2001 but their numbers dropped significantly after a new US-backed government, which had inspired hope for a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, was established in 2002.

Smuggling by air - more expensive

Illegal migration and human trafficking from the least developed countries to Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia have become more and more difficult and costly in the past seven years, largely because of stringent border controls.

“Before 9/11 smugglers were taking people by air to any European country for $8,000-10,000, but now prices have increased to $25,000-30,000 per person,” said Naqibullah (who only gave his first name), a local travel agent who also acts as an agent for illegal migrants.

However, nothing seems to be deterring some Afghans, mostly young males, who still pay thousands of dollars to smugglers and/or take the riskiest routes to get to their sought-after destinations.

On 29 May a ship carrying over a dozen of Afghan migrants from Indonesia to Australia capsized near Sumatra. Nine passengers were killed and 11 others were missing, Associated Press reported.

Migrants face trials and tribulations of all kinds: Some end up in prisons and/or border detention centres and reportedly have experienced serious physical and mental violence.

Popular destinations

The UK appeared to be the most popular European Union (EU) destination, with 3,730 Afghan applicants seeking asylum in 2008, according to the Statistical Office of the European Commission. Turkey, Italy and Greece were the next most popular, according to the UNHCR report on asylum levels in industrialized countries.

About 12,600 Afghans sought asylum in EU countries in 2008 - the fifth largest group after Iraqis, Russians, Somalis and Serbs.

By contrast, the USA only had 72 Afghan asylum-seekers in 2008. Fewer still migrated illegally to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, apparently because of the cost of getting there (about $35,000 to fly to Canada) and/or geography.

Plea not to deport Afghans

It is unclear how many of the 18,500 Afghan asylum-seekers were granted protection in developed countries in 2008.

However, of the 240,000 asylum applicants (5 percent of them Afghans) registered in 27 EU member countries in 2008, at least 141,730 (73 percent) were rejected and only 24,425 applicants (13 percent) were granted refugee status, according to a statement by the Statistical Office of the European Commission.

At least 560 Afghans whose asylum applications were rejected in EU member countries were forced back to Afghanistan in 2008, according to the Ministry of Refugees and Returnees (MoRR). In addition, over 545 unsuccessful applicants voluntarily returned to Afghanistan from the EU last year.

“The situation in Afghanistan is not suitable and we call on European and other countries not to forcefully deport Afghan refugees,” Noor Mohammad Haidari, a senior MoRR adviser, told IRIN, adding that the government had requested all host countries to treat Afghans based on the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

MoRR estimates about 500,000 Afghan refugees live in EU countries and over three million in Pakistan and Iran.

Category: Poverty, Refugees/IDPs - Views: 19558


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