Forced returns of Afghans fuel instability in the country

Earlier this month, the Institute for Peace and Economics described Afghanistan as the ‘least peaceful’ country in the world. Since the US invasion in Afghanistan in 2001, Afghan civilians have not had one day which was not marred by conflict in some form. Despite the initiation of a peace process that includes all actors involved in the conflict, the country has never been as insecure as it is now. As is the case in the majority of conflicts, the first victims are civilians. Huge death tolls, which would once have made the headlines, are now becoming too mundane to draw international attention.

In 2018, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented the highest ever recorded number of civilian deaths (3,804 deaths) since it had started keeping track 10 years ago, including the highest number of children killed in the conflict.

The situation is very concerning and does not seem to be getting any better. In the first three months of 2019, and for the first time in the recent years, pro-government forces killed more Afghan civilians than insurgents, found the UNAMA Quarterly Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. From the 1st of January to the 31st of March 2019, UNMA documented 581 civilian deaths, with the pro-government forces being responsible for 305 of those deaths.

One of the growing problems with the Afghan war is that civilian deaths are increasingly attributed to crossfire between pro- and anti-government forces, which casts disquieting doubts over Afghan and international allies are protection of civilians by Afghan and international allies. UNAMA also reported that on the one hand, there has been an overall decrease in the number of civilian casualties caused by suicide attacks using improvised explosive devices. But on the other hand, targeting of civilians keeps increasing along with civilian casualties from the use of improvised explosive device that are non-fatal for the user. These methods are being used by anti-government and pro-government forces during airstrikes and search operations.

Such figures show how the Afghan population is in dire straits and for those who can afford it, leaving is often the only option left.

Yet, even this choice is sometimes taken away by countries that refuse to grant them asylum and instead chose to deport them back to Afghanistan. There are reports of multiple such cases from more than one European Member State, even countries that claim to be positive examples when it comes to human rights.

Last May, in Hungary for instance, the government failed to deport three Afghan families back to Afghanistan. Two of these families were forced back into Serbia, while the other was permitted to remain in a transit zone in Hungary after the European Court of Human Rights granted an injunction preventing their removal. According to Hungarian legislation, asylum applications are automatically denied for anyone transiting from Serbia, as it is deemed a ‘safe country’.

The European Commission and the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Filippo Grandi, expressed their concerns over Hungary’s legislation and its treatment of migrants and refugees, including their treatment in the transit zone, depriving some of food, and trying to deport them back to Afghanistan, a country which is not safe.

Hungary is unfortunately not the only country that has adopted anti-immigration policy. In 2016, the EU signed an agreement, the Joint Way Forward (JWF), with Afghanistan that would facilitate deportation from the EU and reintegration of Afghan migrants in their country. Forced returns of Afghans from EU countries have considerably increased ever since, despite numerous alarming reports claiming that the situation is far from being safe and stable. We all remember the case of this young Swedish girl, Elin Ersson, who managed to prevent the deportation of an Afghan migrant by refusing to sit down in a plane where she and the migrant were on their way to Turkey. Sweden considers Afghanistan as a ‘safe country’, justifying deportation of Afghan migrants, while at the same time strongly discouraging its people to travel there.

This clearly reveals the level of hypocrisy of European governments when it comes to asylum policy.

Deportation of migrants is ‘emblematic of the cruel and dehumanising policies of many European governments, who are turning a blind eye to the reality of life in Afghanistan in order to increase the number of returns’, declared Massimo Moratti, Amnesty International’s Deputy Europe Director. Amnesty and other international organisations have qualified the returns to this war-torn country as ‘illegal deportations’, which are in direct violation with the non-refoulement principle of customary law.

It is therefore not surprising to see that the EU would remain silent and inactive when countries with which it has special ties, such as countries benefitting from the Generalised System of Preferences Pus (GSP+), also illegally deport Afghan refugees. Indeed, Pakistan, a neighbour to Afghanistan and one of the biggest GSP+’s beneficiaries, is responsible for the world’s largest forced return of migrants, mainly of Afghan refugees. As a GSP+’s beneficiary, Pakistan has the obligation to comply and effectively implement core human rights Conventions, including the Convention against Torture (CAT). Returning refugees to an unsafe country is prohibited both by customary law but also by article 3 CAT. Despite this blatant disrespect for its GSP+’s obligations, Pakistan has never been put under investigation by the European Commission, the GSP’s monitoring body.

It is imperative that the EU and its member states use their discretion and influence to prevent the deportation of Afghans, at least until stability and peace are brought back in Afghanistan. By continuing forced returns or indirectly encouraging them, as is the case of Pakistan, the EU is fuelling the very instability it also says it wants to stop.

Source : https://eptoday.com/forced-returns-of-afghans-fuel-instability-in-the-country/

comment closed