After the massive truck bombing near the German Embassy in Kabul on the 30th of May 2017, Germany halted their deportation of Afghan asylum-seekers, at least temporarily. For a moment, the authorities remembered that it isn’t sensible to send Afghans back to what they had sought refuge from: death from an ongoing war.
As a medical physician working in Kabul, I agree with the UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi who, in releasing the latest UNHCR refugee report, said that, ”The world seems to have become unable to make peace.” This is evident in Afghanistan, with her deteriorating security and political crises. I remember visiting two Afghans who had just been deported from Germany to Kabul, to deliver winter duvets for their use in a private ‘safe house’ established specially for deportees in Kabul. Just two days prior, a bomb blast had happened nearby. One of the two deportees said that he panicked for a few moments after the blast and quickly called his room-mate to ask him where he was. Both of them said that they would, by all means, get themselves to Europe again, as Afghanistan was clearly not safe. They were willing to risk the asylum journey and trauma again, rather than be killed in amidst the unpredictable Afghan insecurity. A Reuters article stated that deported Afghans return to war and unemployment. Recent recommendations to reconsider deportation come from a UN special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons after a visit to Afghanistan , a Human Rights Watch Researcher in Afghanistan, and a senior Afghan analyst for International Crisis Group.
I can think of this medical analogy, in which I use cigarettes to symbolize weapons, war, armies and corporate products: The world manufactures and profits from cigarettes. They send their salesmen and soldiers to pander to Afghan habits and elitist greed. They fill the deserts, deforested mountains and shops with toxic smoke, making ordinary Afghans, most of whom are passive smokers, really sick! The cigarettes cause cancer, as the manufacturers’ warning on the pack warns. Afghans are out-of-work. The jobs are mainly with those who deal in cigarettes. Unemployed, desperate, traumatized and seeking healing, most Afghan refugees stumble into neighbouring countries, while a tiny fraction smuggle their way to Europe. An even tinier fraction end up in Finland. The world says. “Welcome our cigarettes to your country. Buy them. Smoke them. But, don’t come here if the cigarettes destroy your lives. You can’t sue us as our work is legal, and we have warned you.”
Finland should lead Europe and the world, as it does with its education system, to have conversations about how all countries can better resolve the refugee crisis at its roots. While these conversations take time to reform ineffective policies, sending Afghans back into cigarette-smoke-filled Afghanistan to face ‘weapons, war, armies and corporate products’ isn’t being constructive, or healing.
Hakim Young is a Singapore-born physician and peace activist living in Afghanistan.