The forced expulsion of Afghan child migrants from the UK and other European countries puts children in harm’s way and the practice must end immediately, rights groups say.
“UNICEF [the UN Children’s Fund] strongly advocates against blanket return policies that involve forced repatriation of children,” Aziz Froutan, UNICEF’s communication officer, told IRIN.
“It is highly doubtful that the return of children to countries with unstable or even deteriorating security situations, and where local child protection services do not exist, presents a durable solution for these children or would be in their best interest,” he said.
Hamida Barmaki, a child rights commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said Afghanistan was not able to offer minimum protection and welfare services to child deportees from Europe.
“Afghanistan has been suffering a security crisis and under no circumstances is it fair to return unaccompanied children from Europe,” she said.
The UK has earmarked four million pounds (US$6 million) to build a reintegration centre in Kabul which will offer services to child deportees from the UK, according to The Guardian.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also said the authorities in the UK, where over 1,500 Afghan minors applied for asylum in 2009, were planning to return 16-17-year-old Afghans to their country.
Other European countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands have also decided to send child migrants to Kabul.
IRIN contacted the European Union offices and the British embassy in Kabul but no one was immediately available to comment.
A justification by some European officials for child deportation, aired in the media, is that it may deter parents from the dangerous smuggling of their children to Europe.
More seeking asylum
Photo: Khaled Nahiz/IRIN
|An Afghan boy deported from Iran shows his refugee identity card|
The number of Afghan migrants seeking asylum in the West has risen sharply in the past four years, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
In 2009 a total of 26,803 Afghans applied for asylum in 39 mainly Western countries - about 45 percent up from 18,453 claims made in 44 countries in 2008.
Worsening security, widespread unemployment, the dearth of socio-economic opportunities and rapidly declining hopes for a brighter future are among the major push factors, while the prospect of high incomes and better living conditions in Europe and Australia are pull factors.
Most of the migrants are young men or teenagers who pay large amounts of money to smugglers and get them into European countries.
“Given the extreme vulnerability of most Afghan migrants as well as the highly dangerous travel conditions, these migrants - both regular and irregular - are certainly risking their well-being and often lives by embarking on the perilous journey to the destination country,” Kristiina Lilleorg, an IOM official in Kabul, told IRIN.
A study of unaccompanied Afghan child migrants in Europe conducted by UNHCR in June found that some children paid up to US$15,000 and spent several months reaching their favoured European destination.
About 80 percent of all human migration is South-South or between and among developing countries, and this is also true of Afghans who migrate in large numbers to neighbouring countries, according to the IOM.
Thousands of Afghans, including male children, cross the border into Pakistan and Iran every day - some of them without authorized travel documents - in search of jobs and other economic opportunities.
Iran has deported hundreds of thousands of Afghan economic migrants over the past three years, according to aid agencies.
Irregular migration has continued, and has increased sharply since 2008, despite an adverse environment for the acceptance of Afghan migrants in almost all host countries.
Pakistan and Iran have refused to register new Afghan refugees since 2002, and 55 percent of the asylum requests made by Afghans in the Netherlands were turned down in 2009, according to UNHCR. In April Australia said it would suspend consideration of asylum applications from Afghans for six months.
In 2002-2005 Afghanistan was the most returned-to country in the world: Millions of refugees repatriated, primarily from Pakistan and Iran, according to UNHCR.
However, the return trend has dropped off significantly in the past four years, and UNHCR said 2009 was the worst year for voluntary returns.
About 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan and about 935,000 are in Iran, according to UNHCR.