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Why are Afghans being deported from Europe? What you need to know

Photo: Facebook/Elin.K.Ersson

Swedish student Erin Ersson has gone viral after she refused to sit down on a plane that was due to deport an Afghan man from Sweden to Istanbul, and then to his country of origin. 

Erin filmed the whole situation live on Facebook and her video has now been viewed more than 4 million times, raising awareness about deportations of Afghans. Here’s what you need to know. 

Why are people fleeing Afghanistan? 

The war isn’t over in Afghanistan - fighting has persisted almost continually for the past 38 years, making it the second least peaceful country in the world. Only Syria is considered more hostile.  

Every day, hundreds of people flee extreme violence, largely committed by the Taliban: a report from the BBC in January revealed that the Government only control 30% of the country, compared to the Taliban’s 70%. Just this past weekend, scores of people were killed in a suicide bomb blast close to Kabul airport.  

As well as the threat to life from conflict in parts of the country, 39% of the population live below the poverty line and 10 million people have limited, or no, access to essential healthcare. To put it in perspective, that's like everyone living in London and Birmingham not being to receive healthcare.  

The situation in Afghanistan has resulted in the second largest refugee population in the world. With deteriorating security conditions at home and increasing difficulties in Iran and Pakistan where the majority first flee, many Afghans are forced to make the journey to Europe.  

Do people from Afghanistan have the right to claim asylum?  

Yes. Everyone has the right to claim asylum. An asylum seeker is someone who is seeking international protection from dangers in his or her home country, but whose claim for refugee status hasn’t been determined legally. Asylum seekers must apply for protection in the country of destination – so this means that someone facing danger in Afghanistan must first travel to Europe in order to claim asylum there. If a person’s asylum claim is rejected they are deported back to their country of origin. If their claim is accepted, they’ll become refugees and granted international rights and protections. At the International Rescue Committee, we advocate for upholding a fair asylum process. No-one should be returned to a country unless that country is deemed to be safe, and that person’s safety is assured. 

Why are people from Afghanistan being deported from Europe?  

Whilst originally recognised as refugees, Afghans are increasingly being seen as ‘economic migrants’ fleeing poverty, rather than people fleeing war or persecution. Afghans are required to provide extensive legal documentation for their asylum case to be accepted in Europe but many simply do not have all of the paperwork required. Cumulatively, this has resulted in huge numbers of people being returned to Afghanistan since 2015. However, figures from The Norwegian Refugee Council and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reveal that 72% of Afghans who are returned are forced to flee again due to violence.  

What is the IRC doing to help?  

Girls attend class at one of several small schools that were established as part of the International Rescue Committee's community based education program in eastern Kabul's Pul-i-Sheena area.
Girls attend class at one of several small schools that were established as part of the International Rescue Committee's community based education program in eastern Kabul's Pul-i-Sheena area. Photo: Andrew Quilty/IRC

The International Rescue Committee is working both in Europe and Afghanistan to provide life-saving support to Afghans fleeing violence. In Europe, we run services that help people integrate and programmes in education and job training to give people the chance to improve their lives. Through Refugee.Info  – a website, Facebook page and app – the IRC supports refugees on the move by providing them with real-time, reliable information in Arabic and Farsi about their rights, local laws and support services.  

We’re also on the ground in Afghanistan, where we have been working since 1988. Our staff work with local communities to plan their own development projects, provide uprooted families with tents and clean water, run education and women’s protection and empowerment programmes.  

Learn more 

Find out more about what’s happening in Afghanistan and how we’re helping