By M. Nadeem Alizai-When you go for over 70 hours without sleep, your body starts to do strange things. Your body will be panicking and shutting down. Fatigue will consume you. Ringing in your ears will be so loud that you cannot hear even your own voice. Your body will ache badly. Your eyes will be swollen and bloodshot. The shadows will seem to be dancing in front of you. The most unfortunate fact will be that you could not fall asleep because it would bring terror—the terror of being caught before reaching the destination.
This terror catches those illegal immigrants who make hard choices in search for better future. When one hears about illegal immigration, Afghans pop ups into mind. According to eurostat, Afghanistan became the second country of citizenship of asylum seekers in the European Union (EU). At least 41,300 Afghans applied for asylum in the EU in 2014. Out of the total 9,700 were registered in Germany and 8, 800 in Hungary. As per the statistics, during the first quarter of 2015, the highest numbers of first time applicants were registered in Germany (73,100) and Hungary (32,800), followed by Italy (15,200), France (14,800), Sweden (11,400), Austria (9,700) and the United Kingdom (7,300). A large numbers of those were unaccompanied children. In 2008, around 13,600 unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) lodged applications for asylum in Europe, of which 3,825 were Afghans. By 2012, the number of Afghan children was 5,700. In 2013, the number of UASC Afghan applicants was 3,595 out of total 14,065.
Rasheed, whose name has been changed to protect his anonymity, has applied for visit visa along with his brother at Iran’s Embassy at Kabul. The embassy asked him for €600 as security (€300 each applicant). Visa fee for each applicant is €180. He will enter into Turkey from there, illegally.
He said: “It is difficult to cross the Afghan-Iran borders illegally. Thus, I applied for visa. From there we will leave for Turkey. I have contacted a human trafficker there. He will help me and my brother to cross the border. It will cost $3,000 [per person].”
The human trafficker would get $10,000 more from Rasheed to help them enter into Italy. It will be a long and dangerous journey but he is mentally prepared.
There is a general perception that Afghans, mostly adult males and children, go on such dangerous journey due to insecurity, poverty and unemployment at home country. The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) in its research report released in February said: “Lack of prospects for a brighter future, including educational prospects, among children and their parents as well as a high rate of unemployment opportunities, along with inadequate access to basic social services in the country, are the major push factors for the unaccompanied movement. Whilst an organized human smuggling network coupled with weak and porous borders have also contributed to the irregular migration flow, especially of children from Afghanistan.”
No doubt that insecurity and poverty have made the war-torn country home for over three decades, but it would be injustice to term these two as major push factors when it comes to teenage asylum seekers. As far as insecurity is concerned, militants do not warn minors of dire consequences. Second, journey to Europe is not linked with poverty because a father will have to spend over $8,000 to send his child on the unaccompanied journey. How and from where a poor person can manage so much money?
As a matter of fact, most of the asylum seekers belong to middle-class families. We cannot blame the social factors only for these cases because it has become a mindset now. Even some Afghan athletes, military officials and diplomats sought asylum when went on official tour to Europe, the United States or Canada. Though, they enjoyed luxurious life back at home but yet they submitted applications for asylum. They also know that with the qualification they have, they cannot get a respectable job in the developed countries. Most probably they will sell burgers or will work as bartender, sweeper or plumber.
Rasheed has family business in Kabul and Nangarhar. With sound income he is concerned only about future of the country. “I know that I would not get a respectable job in Europe. However, I will have respect as a human. Moreover, there will be no rivalry and unhealthy competition,” he underlined.
Therefore, we can say that one of the pushing factors is unhealthy competition, encouraging Afghans to send their children on the unaccompanied journey or do so themselves. Every person, including high school graduates, wants a high ranking job with handsome salary. They want to buy a car and home within no time. The extravaganza wedding ceremonies give us a glimpse of this competition. One has to spend average $10,000 on marriage ceremonies. How can we expect a developed country with such insalubrious emulation?
Another theory about the increased asylum trend which is more convincing is the unequal distribution of wealth. It has widened trust deficit between the government and public. People hardly trust the system. They fear collapse of the government. A big chunk of population is of the viewpoint that peace and stability would not return so soon. Some of them believe that another civil war is upon them. Chances are high that the growing gap between rich and poor would serve as foundation for the hostility.
This distrust and injustice is widely felt in the country. Perhaps it is why the AREU suggested in its report that the government should provide livelihood opportunities and vocational training for the young people, so they can earn bread with respect.
When asked about the factors that motivated him to risk his life, Rasheed said that former and current ministers as well as lawmakers have settled their families abroad, an indicator that they could leave the country anytime.
“I have seen these rich people. They fled the country when the civil war broke out. Though, they have returned after fall of the Taliban to get high-profile jobs and enjoy the VIP status, but their children are still in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. How can I trust the government when they themselves do not? This is the major reason pushed me to reach Europe even at the cost of my life,” Rasheed quipped.
In Afghanistan, there is no shortage of merchants of deaths and destruction. People who are not part of the government or anti-government forces are paying a heavier price. We don’t see any end to the game of this death and destruction. The war is just changing its shapes and phases. The members of “elite class” will leave the country at the critical phase, he said.
There are many others like Rasheed who are fed up of the hollow promises made by the leaders and duplicity of the officials and politicians. Afghan children and adults will continue to risk their lives until the VIPs bring their families back to Afghanistan. Likewise, equal distribution of wealth and employment opportunities is imperative to address this serious issue.