ESCAPE AGAIN: Afghan refugees deported from Germany are forced to flee a second time to save their lives

Afghan refugees deported from Germany are forced to flee again. Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) researchers met with four of the deported stranded in one of the Greek islands refugee camps and Athens. The four refugees fled Afghanistan again as their lives were at risk. After many difficulties, they managed to arrive in Greece in summer 2017 where they are now stranded and live in degrading conditions.

Deportation to Civil War

More than a year after the first deportation flight from Germany to Kabul, another 19 protection seekers were forcibly deported to Afghanistan.[1] So far, 174 persons have been deported despite a recent spate of deadly attacks in the conflict ravaged country.[2] Meanwhile, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to advice its own citizens against travelling to Afghanistan due to the continuing dangers. Germany is one of the 11 European countries currently implementing collective deportation flights to Afghanistan or considering of doing so.[3]

In December 2016, Germany, re-commenced forcible returns of Afghan refugees to Kabul. The first charter flight of forcible deportations headed to Afghanistan just two months after the adoption of the “Joint Way Forward” framework document. This is a political agreement between the EU and Afghanistan for the forcible return of Afghan protection seekers from Europe.[4] On the same day, that the EU-Afghanistan “Joint Way Forward” agreement was signed, Germany also signed a bilateral ‘readmission’ agreement with Afghanistan.[5] After a huge blast of a bomb close to the German embassy in Kabul in May 2017, deportations were temporarily halted. But they were resumed in October.

 In an attempt also to create acceptance among civil society for the resumption of such deportations, the German government used very vague terms to describe those that would be returned: Deportees would be “criminals”, persons who constitute “a threat to public order”, or anyone “who does not co-operate for his/her identification procedures”, meaning handing over to the authorities a passport or applying to get one by the respective embassy, which is a prerequisite to be deported. They added that there would always be an individual assessment of each case to check whether a deportation would be feasible.

Just deported, and again forced to flee

“I was independent from the help of the German state. I had a stable income. I don’t understand why I was sent back.”

Hassan Jan*, a 29 year-old Afghan refugee describing his life before deportation

Many of those forcibly returned are desperately trying to return again to Europe to seek protection because their lives are in danger in Afghanistan. Our staff interviewed four Afghan refugees[6] who managed to find a way back to Europe, and in the process risked their lives for a second time. They described their horrible experiences of deportation from Germany, the second escape from Afghanistan and the degrading living conditions they now face while trapped in Greece as a result of the EU-Turkey migration deal. None of them had a criminal record in Germany. All were well integrated.

 Hassan Jan* (29), Mostafa* (24), Ali Mohammad* (27) and Jafar* (25) have many things in common.[7] We met them in August and October 2017 in Athens and in one of the Eastern Aegean islands. When talking about their traumatic experiences, they look tired and uncomfortable. What they all wish most is to return to Germany and to get a second chance to stay – this time a real one.

Germany: Traumatic apprehensions and deportations at dawn

“At dawn, the police was suddenly standing in my room. It was maybe 4 o’clock. They only gave me 10 minutes to prepare. I took just the clothes that I was wearing. I forgot to take my school certificate because of the shock. Then I was in Kabul, after six years in Germany. What I saw there was very difficult for me. The first days I was too afraid to even go out of the door.”

Ali Mohammad*, 27 year-old Afghan refugee remembers the distressing nightmare of his deportation

The four young men escaped Afghanistan when they were very young and applied for asylum in Germany, but never got a secure status. Despite this, they told us that they integrated well into society. They all learned German. Also, three of them went to school. While one of them followed longer the path of education, the three others found jobs and could secure their living – until one day all their asylum claims got rejected and their lives started falling apart. Their cases closed and they got the insecure status of ‘tolerance to stay’ (Duldung). As a result, three of them lost the right to work and all were under the constant threat of deportation. They experienced fear and terror for months before everything ended. Each of them was arrested suddenly in the middle of the night and put on a deportation flight to Kabul.[8] This was the end of an important chunk of their lives that had lasted between five and six years since their arrival to Germany.

Afghanistan: Too dangerous to stay

“While I was back in Afghanistan, a bomb exploded three times near me…”

Mostafa*, 24 year-old Afghan refugee describing the dangers he faced following his deportation from Germany

Back in Kabul, the four young men were still in shock. They left Germany without even being able to take all their belongings. Three of them found temporary shelter in the International Organization for Migration (IOM) guest house for returnees, but only for three weeks. They said, that they were full of fear and didn’t dare to walk outside. After another six weeks in a shelter run by the Afghanistan Migrants Advice & Support Organisation (AMASO)[9], the three of them were back on the streets and left to fend for themselves, each of them hiding their individual identities in order to avoid persecution and the overall dangers of regular violent attacks in the capital. Ali Mohammad* was approached several times in the street by strangers. They told him they had seen him on TV disembarking the deportation flight in Kabul airport. He also described, that these people requested money from him and that he was insulted and threatened as “Kāfir” [atheist, blasphemer]. Mostafa* narrowly escaped a suicide attack that took place near him, but his friend got injured and was hospitalised. Lacking any kind of support or even contacts, all four men could not find a permanent shelter, nor protection, not even any possibility to make a living and survive. The time they spent in Afghanistan they relied on money they had been able to bring along from Germany or friends who sent some support from Europe. During the days and weeks they spent back in the country they had once escaped from and had no family left, a country they didn’t even recognize anymore, they just tried to prepare their escape back to Europe in order to protect their lives.

Turkey: Escape under risk of life

 “…They (Greek authorities) (put us) in a windowless van and transferred me (and) other refugees including families to the shores of river Evros where they forced us to board a boat. They left us on a small island in the middle of the river. We were forced to walk through the river to reach the (Turkish) shore. …..”.

Hassan Jan*, a 29 year-old Afghan refugee describing a collective expulsion from Greece in June 2017

Mostafa* and Hassan Jan* faced many dangers during their second attempt to reach Europe. At the border between Turkey and Greece they experienced push-backs and detention. Mostafa* was deported back to Afghanistan once more.

Mostafa* was arrested one night in August 2017 by the Turkish Gendarmes when trying to reach the coast and cross over to Greece[10]: “I stayed 15 days in detention in Chanakkale. They arrested the whole group I was with and brought us to the police station. They searched us and put us in cells. Only after one week they took us for fingerprinting and asked us a few questions. I told them all my problems, how I got deported from Germany (and) the dangers I face in Afghanistan. They put me in handcuffs and brought me to the Consulate of Afghanistan in Istanbul, where they alleged I was a criminal because that’s what they say in the news, that only criminals are being deported back. I was then forcibly returned to Afghanistan for a second time.” After one day in his country, Mostafa* directly escaped back to Turkey.

Hassan Jan* described to us how he was pushed-back to Turkey when he entered Greece through the land border in June 2017. This was his first attempt to reach Europe after his return to Afghanistan. Shortly after his irregular entry in Greece, he was apprehended during a police check on a bus.”… I was transferred and detained by the police in a large room where there were also many (other) persons of different nationalities – Syrians. Afghans and others. They body searched me (and the others) and took away all our mobile phones…. I was not fingerprinted and was not asked to sign any kind of document… They (the Greek authorities) put us in a windowless van and transferred me and other refugees including families to the shores of river Evros where they forced us to board a boat. They left us on a small island in the middle of the river. We were forced to walk through the river to reach the (Turkish) shore.…..” Hassan Jan* returned to Greece again on the same way only a few days after the first try.

Greece: Stranded under deplorable conditions

 “… People are so tired from the conditions and the uncertainty of their future that nearly every day a fight breaks out. In December 2017, our tents got destroyed once more during such chaos. All our things got lost, stolen or destroyed. We have nothing, but the little things we keep like treasures are lost every time and we start from zero again.”

Jafar*, 25 year-old Afghan refugee describing the harsh conditions in one of the Greek islands refugee camps

Under huge difficulties the four young men reached Greece in the summer of 2017. Now they are trapped in Greece in degrading conditions. Three of the men are trying to survive winter in their summer tents in one of the island hotspots. Hassan Jan*, who managed to re-enter the country through the land border, found himself homeless on the streets of Athens. They are all in the process of seeking asylum in Greece. This does not constitute a reliable perspective of protection for them.

While Greece has not yet started direct forcible deportations of Afghans back to their country, it is putting a strong emphasis on a policy of deterrence. Since the EU-Turkey Deal came to effect in March 2016 until the end of January 2018, 1,516 Afghans[11] returned “voluntarily” back home[12] from all over Greece. During the same period dozens were readmitted from the Aegean Islands to Turkey[13] either because they didn’t ask for asylum, withdrew their will to apply for asylum or their asylum claim got rejected. Many more might have been already stopped before reaching safely Greece: They were apprehended at the Greece-Turkish land border, pushed or pulled back to Turkey[14] or didn’t even try to reach the territory through the Aegean due to the fear of getting trapped and detained on the islands in degrading conditions. Meanwhile, in December 2017 the Afghan government opened its first embassy in Greece. This fact may not only solve bureaucratic problems for many Afghan refugees who are in need of some official documents, but it may ease the first forcible returns from Greece to Kabul.

“I feel home and safe in Germany,” Mostafa* says after all and despite the horrors he has been through. At the moment, he is happy that he was able to flee Afghanistan and save his life. But the longer he stays in Greece, the more insecure he becomes about what he has to do and where he has to go to be really safe. “I am afraid to stay here. I don’t feel protected. Anything can happen to me. I am scared of being returned to Turkey or even deported to Afghanistan”, he says.

 

Protest against deportations of Afghans in Hamburg, Germany, on 7 January 2017. copyright©Salinia Stroux

THE FOUR STORIES

Hassan Jan* fled Afghanistan after life threats. He was forced to leave his country of birth in his early twenties. First his father ran from Afghanistan, after he denied providing the Mujjaheddin with information concerning his foreign customers. Hassan Jan* was forced to quit school and start work soon after while still a child. When he later took over the shop of his father, he soon found himself exposed to the same dangers.

He was in his early twenties when he arrived in Germany where he lived for five years, worked and had his own flat. Following, the second rejection of his asylum application, Hassan Jan* stayed with a ‘tolerance to stay’ for eight months. His lawyer told him not to be afraid, as he had no Afghan passport and could thus not be effectively forced back to Afghanistan. Despite this, he got suddenly arrested, was held for three days in detention and was then deported. Hassan Jan* told us: “I was independent from the help of the German state. I had a stable income. I don’t understand why I was sent back.”

Back in Kabul, Hassan Jan* was in shock. “I couldn’t adjust. After six days in Kabul I escaped back to Europe. In Kabul, I saw how people had changed. They seemed to notice I came from Europe. Strangers were telling me I was a Kāfir (see above). Even my uncle left the country out of fear for his life.”

Hassan Jan* arrived in Greece in the beginning of June 2017. The first time he entered, he said that he was pushed back to Turkey (see above). Ever since he is trying to survive. “I succeeded only the second time I tried to arrive in Greece. I crossed the land border and went to Athens. All my money had finished. I found myself homeless in the streets. Sometimes other Afghans were hosting me for one night. Sometimes I slept outside. Sometimes I had food, sometimes I didn’t. Now I have found shelter for a few days, but I don’t know when they will kick me out. My survival depends on the solidarity of other people and on their ability to help. I registered to apply for asylum. My asylum interview got postponed as the Greek authorities claimed they would first send a take-over request to Germany to clear the responsibility for my asylum case between the two countries. I am so afraid of Afghanistan. I can never go back. I tried to find a place in a camp or in a flat, but all organisations say that I have to wait. I can also not get the Cash-Card because I have no place to stay. And I have no money. I actually have nothing.”

Mostafa* is from the North of Afghanistan. Mostafa* is 70% blind in one eye, he says, and he doesn’t really remember how that happened. He only remembers, that he understood he had a problem with his sight when he was a teenager. He described his harrowing life in Afghanistan: “I was 17 when I ran away from Afghanistan. When I was a child I got ill-treated by relatives I grew up with and I was sent to work for many hours a day without getting paid. They would beat me up with anything they could find. From the beatings with a wooden stick, I still have marks on my head. Since that time, I cannot move my arm straight. I have problems to concentrate and I cannot control my emotions. When I am stressed out, I begin to shiver.”

During his stay in Germany, he learnt to work as a cook. The last two months in Germany before his deportation, he had only a ‘tolerance to stay’ as his asylum case got rejected in two instances. Mostafa* said: “I lived for six years in Germany and I worked there for four years without a break. I have 50 payrolls. I can show them to you. Only for the last two months I was unemployed as my legal status didn’t allow me to continue working.”

Mostafa* told us that upon his return to Afghanistan he was in danger, as he had distanced himself from his faith. Further, none of his relatives or friends was in Afghanistan and he had nowhere to stay. “While I was back in Afghanistan, a bomb exploded three times near me. The first time a suicide bomber killed dozens of people near us. We were going to receive some money, when we heard the explosion.[15] In the panic, we lost the sight on our friend A. who had been deported with us. Later we learnt that he was in hospital as he got injured.[16] It was on 7 February 2017. We were watching at least 3 to 4 attacks a week on the TV. I heard from friends that one of the persons deported with us even got captured and killed by the Taliban. You know, of the 35 persons deported in our flight, only 7 to 8 found a temporary place in the shelter for the deportees. I was lucky at the beginning to be a little safer. But as soon as I had no place to stay, I had to run from Afghanistan for the second time in my life.”

Mostafa* suffers from depression. He exhibits symptoms such as insomnia, shivering hands, forgetting things and feeling dizzy without reason. He has also been diagnosed with neurological problems. When speaking about his time in Greece, Mostafa* sighs deeply: “When I arrived in Greece and I said I had been deported from Germany, they first told me I could not ask for asylum, but I explained to them that my life is in danger where I come from.” The registration of Mostafa’s* asylum claim was postponed after a big fight broke in the hotspot where he stays and his next appointment was scheduled for January 2018. “Every day masses of refugees push themselves on the fence of the Asylum Office. The officers there always say ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’ – day by day. They let sometimes families in, but not often us single men”, he reports.

Ali Mohammad* is a Hazara from Afghanistan. When he was just six years old, he and his family escaped to Iran. Life was hard, so his family decided after some years to return to Afghanistan in the hope to start all over. When they tried to actually get back to their house and field, they found themselves confronted with new settlers. They were militants seemingly supporting local Taliban leaders. “They attacked us and tried to kill my father. We tried to find another place to live, but my parents couldn’t afford the rent and were afraid to have more problems with the Taliban. So we returned to Tehran. We had lost the little we had. I had to work again as a metal worker, suffered discrimination each day, and I was under threat to be deported to Afghanistan permanently. Meanwhile, my cousin got killed back in Afghanistan. It is too dangerous to go to our province now. All my family left from there. I have nobody in Afghanistan now. I don’t even know the country. I have nowhere to go there and I have no papers in Iran too.”

In Germany, Ali Mohammad* was living in a small city. A life he now lost. He doesn’t know how to get it back. But he also experienced a lot of stress as back in Germany, he lived for five years with a ‘tolerance of stay’ and was constantly afraid that he would be deported. This led him to a suicide attempt that nearly cost him his life. He was hospitalized for one week. “I couldn’t find a job, because of my insecure status. I had started school and an internship. But I was mentally so stressed out, I couldn’t continue my internship. I was asking myself all the time, why am I not allowed to work and earn my own money? After six months, I stopped the internship. I was only sleeping and eating, sleeping and eating. I had no motivation to do anything. Nothing made sense to me. I lost hope and faith. And then because I had nothing to do, I felt even worse. It was like a devil’s circle.”

Reluctant, he tries to remember the day of his deportation: “At dawn, the police was suddenly standing in my room. It was maybe 4 o’clock. They only gave me 10 minutes to prepare. I took just the clothes that I was wearing. I forgot to take my school certificate because of the shock. Then I was in Kabul, after six years in Germany. What I saw there was very difficult for me. The first days I was too afraid to even go out of the door. A few times a friend and I went out walking. Strangers were addressing us in the street. They said: ‘Hey, I know you guys. I saw you in TV. You were deported from Germany’. They were bothering us, making comments referring to us as rich people. As if we were rich just because we came from Germany. I had the same jacket and shoes on I had been wearing during the deportation and in the TV-Shows where I was interviewed because I had nothing else to wear. Maybe they recognized me this way. After that I got so afraid. We didn’t go out anymore. Only if we had to so we could get something to eat.”

Since he arrived on one of the Aegean islands, he is not motivated to go even out of his tent. The doctors diagnosed him as suffering from depression and referred him for further treatment to Doctors without Borders (MsF). He speaks about having insomnia, anxiety, and a tremor in one of his hands. When he talked to us he said: “We all only received a Cash-Card at end of November but without anything inside. This means we do not have any money. Sometimes we don’t get a meal. We queue for long time. Sometimes the food is not edible. So we don’t eat. People beat each other up for a proper meal.” He seems almost shy to talk about the conditions in the camp. “We all live in summer tents, as there is no space in the prefabs or bigger tents for us. It is cold and wet here. Sometimes it rains non-stop for two days. The tents are built on the cement floor. We put blankets in the tents, as there is no other protection apart from thin plastic. It is just wet and cold.” He managed to register his asylum claim in the beginning of December 2017 while his interview appointment has been scheduled for the end of February 2018.

Jafar* is a Hazara and he was working on a farm before he fled Afghanistan as a 17-year-old. He said that he had to escape after falling in love with a girl, who he was not able to marry as she belonged to a powerful Clan. Reportedly, their relationship finally led to the killing of his father and forced him out of the country while he was still a minor.

He spent his last year in Germany with a ‘tolerance to stay’. “After my graduation from secondary school, I wanted to work. I just found a training place to become a metal- and concrete worker when they deported me. I already had the appointment to start my training, and if I had started, they would not have been able to deport me.”[17]

He had to stay longer than the others in Afghanistan, as he did not even have the money to escape. “In July, I had to travel to my home city to get a Taskera (an identity card). On my way back to Kabul; I was checked by the Taliban. One of them said: ‘He is a deportee from Europe’. They wanted to pull me out of the bus and arrest me. Another passenger interfered. He said, he knew me and I had just been returned from Iran, not from Europe. I was shivering. I showed them my Taskera. They let me go. After my return to the capital, I lived as a homeless person in Kabul. I don’t even know how I survived. I cannot clearly remember the days there. I try to forget.”

Jafar* doesn’t want to speak a lot. He is suffering and this is visible. His asylum claim was finally registered at the end of January 2018. He has not managed to go and see a doctor. Jafar* does not feel motivated to do anything. He described the dire conditions in the island refugee camp: “There are no functioning clean toilets here. We try to get permission from the residents of the prefab houses to use their bathrooms, but most of them are families, and they don’t want us to enter. I don’t even know when was the last time I had a shower. There is no hot water. Sometimes the water is cut for 3-4 days. The showers are so dirty, that if we enter just, we will get sick. It is filthy and smells bad. As the toilets are broken, some people use the showers instead. People are so tired from the conditions and the uncertainty of their future that nearly every day a fight breaks out. In December 2017, our tents got destroyed once more during such chaos… . All our things got lost, stolen or destroyed. We have nothing, but the little things we keep like treasures are lost every time and we start from zero again.”

Afghan refugees together with others protest in Athens, Greece, against the closure of the Balkan borders and the EU-Turkey Deal οn 19 March 2016. copyright©Salinia Stroux

 

ENDNOTES

[1] This was the ninth flight of its kind and it took place on 23 January 2018.

[2] During the past few weeks, four major attacks in Kabul and other Afghan cities caused numerous civilian casualties. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-42929370. See also: https://www.ecre.org/the-afghan-paradox-chaos-and-violence-but-safe-for-returns-from-europe/ (visited 05.02.2018). Between January and end of September 2017, the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan documented 2,640 civilian casualties. Source: https://unama.unmissions.org/civilian-casualties-remain-near-record-high-levels-afghanistan (visited 11.02.2018).

[3] Source: https://www.ecre.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Returns-Case-Study-on-Afghanistan.pdf (visited 05.02.2018).

[4] Source: https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/eu_afghanistan_joint_way_forward_on_migration_issues.pdf (visited 01.02.2018).

[5] Source: https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/afghan-exodus-afghan-asylum-seekers-in-europe-3-case-study-germany/ (visited 07.02.2018).

[6] The main interviews were conducted on 4 and 10 August and 23 and 24 October 2017. In later talks updates on their situation were given.

[7] All names are changed to keep anonymity.

[8] The four interviewees were deported with the first flights that left in the direction of Kabul.

[9] AMASO shelter offers one month of stay, which can be for another 45 days maximum. The hosted deportees have to provide themselves with food. Source: https://amasosite.wordpress.com (visited 09.02.2018).

[10] A complaint was filed about the incident with the Greek Ombudsperson.

[11] Written answer to RSA by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM). Dated 6 February 2018. The statistics provided cover the period 22 March 2016 – 29 January 2018. Returns to Afghanistan had been halted in the period 20 March – 1 June 2016.

[12] For a recent comment on how refugee end up to prefer returning to their home countries due to the devastating conditions in Greece, see: http://harekact.bordermonitoring.eu/2018/01/30/the-myth-of-voluntary-deportations-assisted-voluntary-return-and-reintegration-from-greece/ (visited 15.01.2018).

[13] Between April 2016 and 31 January 2018, 88 Afghan nationals were returned to Turkey under the EU-Turkey migration deal. Source: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/61801.pdf (visited 7.02.2018).

[14] A recent publication in the Greek news outlet TVXS documented refugee testimonies regarding push-backs at the land border in Evros from Greece to Turkey. Source: http://news247.gr/eidiseis/tv-xoris-sunora/tvxs-apokleistiko-to-vrwmiko-mystiko-stis-oxthes-toy-evroy.5051773.html (visited 05.02.2018).

[15] Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/world/asia/afghanistan-suicide-bombing-supreme-court.html (visited 12.12.2017).

[16] Source: https://www1.wdr.de/daserste/monitor/videos/video-hilflos-in-kabul-abschiebungen-nach-afghanistan-100.html (visited 12.12.2017).

[17] According to the so called „3+2“-rule in German Law a person with a tolerance to stay who enters a job training, is protected from deportation during the years of the job training with a special tolerance to stay status (German Residence Act – AufenthG, §60a, par. 2, sentence 4 ff) and will get a secure permit to stay if he/she finds a permanent employment within the next two years after passing the final exams of the training.

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