Amid the current refugee crisis in Europe, those fleeing the war in Syria have captured international attention in Europe. Syrians are frequently being given priority in the quest for asylum ahead of any other nationality. While the struggles of the Syrian people should continue to be underscored, we must not forget another national group deserving of protection. After Syrians, Afghans are now the second-largest group seeking refuge in Europe. The United Nations says 77,731 Afghans applied for asylum across Europe in the first half of this year, after having made the arduous journey across Iran, Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea and often continuing overland across the Balkans to Western Europe.
It is a huge risk to leave everything behind and come to an unknown place, where language, culture, and tradition are alien. But for many, a life blighted by violence and poverty in one of the least developed countries in the world often leaves little choice but to search for a better life elsewhere. Here are a few reasons that explain why Afghans leave.
Conflict has ravaged the country since 1978, meaning nearly constant war for 37 years. This summer has been particularly bloody. In recent months, civilians have suffered record casualties as government troops battled Taliban and extremist insurgencies. Insecurity and armed conflict continue to affect a large part of the country. Civilians are at risk from frequent bomb blasts, while many individuals are fleeing persecution from extremists. Healthcare facilities and schools are subject to attacks, making it difficult for Afghans to access healthcare and education.
In addition to existing insecurity, Afghanistan is blighted by frequently reoccurring natural disasters including floods, droughts, earthquakes and landslides.
Out of a population of some 28 million, more than 13 million suffer from a lack of availability and access to food. 1.5 million people face severe food insecurity. Natural disasters have caused widespread damage to crops. Average food prices have risen considerably due to shortages. Those who are forced to move away from their homes to other parts of the country are particularly affected as they often lose access to their land and livestock. There are 200,000 internally displaced people that are reported to be in need of immediate assistance.
Hope has faded. Those who have fled across the border into neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran also have little prospect of returning home any time soon. Many Afghans have turned to smugglers to organize the perilous journey to Europe, paying huge sums sometimes exceeding €10,000. It is said that finding smugglers in Kabul has never been easier than in recent months, with smugglers frequently operating out of travel agencies, shops and hotels.
While media attention on Afghans has dwindled, it is important not to lose sight of the worsening situation in the country and the plight of those reaching the shores of Europe.
Written by Roopa Matthews.