Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Conference summary: "Afghanistan is not safe"

The panel discussion.

The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated the last years and no regions can any longer be regarded as safe. This conclusion was drawn by the participants on the international conference How safe is Afghanistan? in Stockholm on October 4, 2018.

- It is very likely that Afghanistan will be the worst country in the world when it comes to conflict related deaths, said Therese Pettersson, project leader for Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), to the audience that filled the hall at Convendum in Central Stockholm. 

That the situation in Afghanistan is difficult is not a piece of news. The Australian professor William Maley, Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, gave in his presentation a broad historic expose of the war-torn history of Afghanistan.

- Although the last conflict started in 2001, the country has not had a normal peaceful situation in 40 years. This has made the situation very difficult to ordinary people, said William Maley.

The security situation has declined significantly since the withdrawal of most of the international forces in 2014, and the number of civilian fatalities is facing new records, according to UN.

Among other things, this depends on that the Taliban, who wants to take over the power of the country, has intensified its activities and to a greater degree focuses its attacks on civilians in densely populated areas. Also the Islamic State, IS, is advancing in the country and has carried through large scale attacks on, among other things, Shia mosques, with many deaths.

That the security in the country is inconstant and that it is difficult to predict where the attacks will happen was a pervading theme for the speakers at the conference.

- There are no safe areas in Afghanistan. As the institutions are as fragile as they are in the country today, an area that seems safe today might be exposed to violence tomorrow, said professor William Maley and underlined that the state neither now nor within a foreseeable future has what is needed to protect the inhabitants.

At the same time as the security situation is deteriorating, the majority of the Afghans who seek asylum in Sweden and Europe get their asylum applications rejected. According to Hellen Kooijman, co-founder of the European network Don’t send Afghans back, Sweden is one of the countries that is hardest in its assessment of Afghans’ right to asylum. In 2017, 37 percent of the Afghans in Sweden were granted residence permit, while the cut for the EU the same year was 47 percent. In 2015, the average figure for the EU countries was 67 percent, although the security situation has deteriorated since then. The lowest figurers come from Bulgaria, where on 1,5 percent of the Afghans were granted residence permit in 2017.  

- During my work with this presentation, I realized that the EU as a whole starts to move in the direction of Bulgaria when it comes to the attitude towards Afghan asylum seekers, Hellen Kooijman said.

Which is the reality that meets those who have been forced to return to Afghanistan? According to the last legal position about Afghanistan from the Swedish Migration board, internal flight for persons who lack network can be “relevant and reasonable above all to the towns Kabul, Herat or Mazar-e-Sharif”. In a legal commentary from September 2018, as an answer to the new guidelines from UNHCR that Kabul cannot be regarded as safe for IDPs, the authority repeated its position that Kabul still can “be regarded as a relevant and reasonable alternative for internal flight”.

But the capital Kabul is a place that is distinguished in UCDP’s statistics. In the Afghan capital, more civilians die as a result of the conflict than members of the conflicting parties, according to Therese Pettersson.

The sociologist Dr. Liza Schuster, City University of London, has made research on what happens to those who are deported to Afghanistan. She concluded that most re-migrate as the reason that made them leave the country to start with in most cases persist or worsened, at the same time as many were indebted in connection to the flight.

- Of the others, few are integrated in the society, while others end up in addiction and homelessness, dies or are recruited to militant groups, she said.

Also Liza Schuster concludes that the security situation, in Afghanistan in general and Kabul in particular, has deteriorated considerably during the last years, which affects those who never left the country as well as those who are forced to return.

- Earlier you could get in trouble if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now these times and places have extended and there are no longer any absolutely safe areas, she said, and described how her colleagues and friends in Kabul more often stay at home, and choose not to send their children to school as it has become too dangerous.

- There is a profound feeling of fear in the society that should not be underestimated. Of course this also affects the economy, said Liza Schuster.

A person who after all has managed to build up a life in Kabul is Abdul Ghafoor, founder of the organisation Afghanistan Migrants Advice Support Org (AMASO). He grew up himself in Pakistan and came to Afghanistan in 2013. Today his organisation offers support to those who are deported to Afghanistan from Europe.

- Some of the young boys I meet have not put his foot in Kabul earlier, but come to Europe from Iran or Pakistan. They don’t know anything about the country or the town and end up in a war zone. Imagine yourself which trauma it is to be sent to an unknown place where explosions and suicide attacks happen nearly on a daily basis, he said via link from the Afghan capital.

Abdul Ghafoor tells that those who don’t have access to socio-economic networks in the town face great difficulties to cope. Also those who have their family in the country many times cannot return home, as the families reject them and believe that the deportation is due to that they have not behaved properly.

- Another threat to young ones who are sent back is that they are exploited as Bacha bazi, which means that young boys are made use of as sex slaves. I have heard from young boys that they have been molested in different ways, and that was the reason that we started a kind of protected shelter for the most exposed ones, said Abdul Ghafoor.

Abdul Ghafoor also mentioned Christian converts as extra exposed and said that many who are forced to return to Afghanistan end up in addiction.

- The reason that we don’t hear so much about these problems is that there is no follow up of those who are deported. What do they get – two weeks in a hotel and a small support package? A support package that takes much longer time to get now than earlier, so the deportees often have no money, he said.

In front of the elections to the parliament on October 20, reports about deadly attacks are frequent and hundreds of people, of whom several candidates, have ended their lives. The authorities have insisted that the election should be implemented, but in Kandahar the election is postponed one week since the province’s police chief Abdul Raziq was killed in an attack.

So, How safe is Afghanistan? After a full day conference, filled with different aspects of security, deportation and social networks, Therese Pettersson made this comment during the final panel discussion:

- My answer is that it is not safe, there are no safe areas, and it is getting worse.

First published in amnestypress.se Oct 20, 2018. Author Vera Häggblom. Translation Ingrid Eckerman (no language checking).