‘I never heard from them again’: an Afghan family’s doomed journey

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Firooz Mozafari’s five-year-old son Akbar days before he drowned with the rest of his family in the Aegean.

In the early morning on 8 February, before setting off from the Turkish coast with his family, Firooz Mozafari was on the phone to his brother Farid in Kabul. They had spoken every day since Firooz left Afghanistan 48 days earlier, and Farid asked him to keep his phone on during this last stretch of the journey to Europe.

“I can’t, I’m running out of battery,” Firooz said, hung up, and climbed aboard a small speedboat with 11 relatives, including his wife and two children.

After two hours without word from his brother, Farid began to worry. The trip across the Aegean should take 40 minutes. A friend reassured him nothing was wrong. “It takes a couple of hours to get through immigration,” Farid remembered him saying. So he waited.

But later he received the terrible news: Firooz’s boat had sunk 15 minutes after leaving Izmir, with 24 people on board.

As a journalist Firooz had known the hazards of the journey but, weighing his options, he thought it worth spending his savings on plane tickets to Iran and smuggler fees to escape the never-ending war in his homeland.

Afghans make up a large proportion of the migrants and refugees who are arriving in Europe. Last year more than 210,000 Afghans arrived, 21% of the total, according to the UN. It is a staggering number, fully 15 years after the Taliban were driven out of Kabul. During that time, Afghanistan has received aid greater in value than the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after the second world war.

Firooz’s destination was Germany. But like many others undertaking the risky journey, he had unrealistic expectations.

The journey northward from the Mediterranean is arduous, if not impossible. Last week about 10,000 migrants, mostly Afghans, were stranded in Greece after Macedonia closed its borders to Afghans on the grounds that they were not fleeing a war zone, like Syrians and Iraqis.

After futile pleas to Macedonia to open its border, Greek police began moving migrants from the frontier to temporary camps in Athens.

With the Schengen zone under strain, European countries are taking individual efforts to limit the influx of migrants. The Macedonian government said it decided to refuse entry for Afghans after Austria imposed a limit on transit and asylum applications.

Macedonia is not the only European country to take measures specifically targeting Afghan asylum seekers. Germany, where more than 150,000 Afghans sought asylum last year, has launched billboard campaigns in Afghanistan, as well as a Facebook campaign, warning Afghans not to travel to Europe.

During a recent visit to Kabul, the German interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, said his government would start deporting rejected asylum seekers. The Afghan government, meanwhile, has said it will not accept those who are forcibly returned.

Last week, a chartered plane returned 125 asylum seekers, voluntarily, from Germany to Afghanistan. The German embassy in Kabul said in a statement: “After a difficult way to Germany in the hands of people smugglers they realised their future is in Afghanistan and that they are needed in their home country.”

Continue reading here. (Original posted in The Guardian)

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