“We left Afghanistan because we were in danger,” said Mostafa, 17, several friends nodding in agreement. “Things would be even worse if we returned. The Taliban would ask us why we left for Europe. I am not here by choice,” said Mostafa. “If there were no war in Afghanistan I’d prefer to be back there. It’s my country. But now I am happy here.”
This nightmare scenario is edging closer for the Afghan boys for Sweden, the country that welcomed them along with 35,000 other unaccompanied minors from across the globe during the extraordinary year of 2015, has had a change of heart.
“The Swedish government is not that different than the Taliban. The Taliban kill us. Sweden sends us to be killed.”
The UNHCR agrees: if safe countries refuse to welcome them and offer them help, “that equates to condemning them to death”, it said.
Although Afghans represent more than half of refugees that landed in Sweden, only 28% were granted asylum by the immigration authorities in 2016, compared with 91% of Syrian applicants. Ever since the European Union declared there were “safe zones” in Afghanistan and concluded an agreement with its government in October 2016 to send refugees home, they have been considered fair game. Britain, Norway, the Netherlands, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, France and Germany have also deported Afghan refugees or offered them financial incentives to leave voluntarily. Pakistan and Iran, both of which house numerous Afghan refugees, have been particularly aggressive in deporting them.
The United Nations high commissioner for refugees has expressed alarm at the growing European trend for returning Afghans.
“The overall humanitarian and security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated during the past year and a half,” said Caroline Bach, a spokesperson for the UNHCR. “We are also highly concerned about targeted violence against children in Afghanistan, including sexual violence, the recruitment of child soldiers, and attacks on schools which have recently sharply increased in number.” Last year a third of civilian casualties of the Afghan conflict were children, according to UN figures. In 2015 it was one in four. “Several studies show that these refugee children were traumatised by experiences prior to leaving Afghanistan, during their trips to Europe and by the lengthy asylum processes,” said Bach. “However there are no adequate facilities in Afghanistan to support their fragile mental health and psychosocial needs.”
Another spokesperson for the UNHCR added: “ Asylum eligibility should be determined on a case-by-case basis, based on real needs, and not by profiling applicants’ nationalities.”