Blocked at border after border, are Afghans Europe's new pariahs?

VIENNA -- Suddenly, Afghans appear to be the new pariahs of Europe.

Despite fleeing attacks in their homeland from the Taliban and alleged Islamic State militants, their quest for a safer life is being blocked at border after border in Europe -- and no country along the route wants to take the blame.

See Full Article

"(Everyone) is passing the responsibility down the line," said UN refugee spokeswoman Melissa Fleming, who added that her organization had not been informed of who was behind the decision on turning back Afghan refugees, or why.

Macedonia, the entry point from Greece after migrants cross the sea from Turkey, says Serbia is at fault. Officials say they have been forced to turn away Afghans seeking to move on toward other countries in Western Europe because Serbia, on the country's northern border, is not letting them through.

Serbia says it's blocking the Afghans after holding talks with Slovenia to the north and with Austria, which borders Slovenia and represents the end of the Balkan migrant route for those fleeing war, violence and economic hardship in the Mideast, Africa or Asia.

But Slovenia and Austria insist their borders remain open to all nationalities seeking asylum and deny giving orders to other countries to shut out anyone.

"A chain of deportations ... (is) taking place all the way down the Balkan land route," said U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, adding that Afghans stranded between Macedonia and Greece are exposed to "abject conditions."

"(These moves are) compounding the already exceptionally difficult situation in Greece," he added.

While no Europeans officials are willing to say why the Afghans are not being allowed to travel through, it would be difficult to claim that they, as a group, no longer qualify for asylum because security has improved back home.

In a report last month, the Pentagon's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said the Taliban now controls more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since 2001 and described the country as "even more dangerous than it was a year ago."

The UN mission in Afghanistan reported this month that of the 11,000 civilians killed and wounded in 2015, most were the victims of insurgents. It also said 10 per cent of the civilian casualties were women and 25 per cent were children.

Nine of at least 13 people killed Monday were civilians in the latest such attack -- a suicide bombing in Afghanistan's northern Parwan province.

Yet across Afghanistan, the greatest threat to stability is its failing economy. Economic growth has plunged from over 20 per cent a few years ago-- when international military and aid cash were pouring in -- to zero. The Afghan government has been incapable of creating jobs and investors shy away because of the lack of security. For the Afghan people, who are mostly under 25, this translates into a lack of hope for the future -- and has propelled so many to flee to Europe.

As the European border blame-game continues, the distress of Afghan refugees grows. At a Greek migrant camp, 24-year-old Jamshid Azizi said he tried to cross into Macedonia in the last few days but was sent back to Greece.

"It is very frustrating that they make the discrimination between Afghan asylum-seekers and Syrian asylum-seekers," Azizi said. "In Syria, there's war for five years. But in Afghanistan, there is war for more than three decades.

"If they want to block the road, they should block (it) for all," declared Azizi, who says he was an interpreter for NATO forces in Afghanistan, not an occupation looked upon kindly by the Taliban.

He and other Afghan refugees started getting rejected a week ago. Macedonian officials say Serbia acted first and their country followed four days later, barring all Afghan citizens from entry starting Tuesday. Serbia insists its borders are open -- but apparently to not to Afghans.

"Everyone can move in accordance with the rules set by Austria and Slovenia," said Serbian Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin. "Serbia does not decide who can pass through its territory without consulting the states up the migrant route."

In Slovenia, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Vesna Drole said her government's policy is to let anyone wanting to apply for asylum in Austria or German cross its border regardless of nationality. Karl-Heinz Grundboeck, her Austrian counterpart, also said his country remains open to all seeking asylum -- as long as the number applying at its southern border does not exceed 80 people a day.

Asked who was behind the Afghan border pileup further south, he says "controls and decisions of other states are their responsibility."

At a meeting Monday in Vienna, regional interior and foreign ministers announced specific new border controls and warned that borders across Europe may close for all sooner or later.

The potential for chaos is huge. Nearly 17,000 Afghans passed through Macedonia last month. Close to 10,000 more followed in February until Monday. By Thursday, 854 Afghans were stuck at Macedonia's border with Serbia, and 300 more on Serbia's border to Croatia.

Down the chain, Afghans make up about 30 per cent of the roughly 2,000 new arrivals per day in Greece. That nation displayed its anger at other countries' unilateral border decisions by recalling its ambassador Thursday from Vienna.

At a Serbian crossing point into Croatia, from where migrants are taken by train to the Slovenian border, refugee agency field worker Giorgi Sanikidze said the regulations for who could come in are changing "on a daily basis."

Worst affected is Greece -- the entry point for the most of the more than 1 million migrants who arrived in Europe last year. The financially strapped nation has already seen over 100,000 more refugees come in so far this year and its migration minister, Ioannis Mouzalas, expects the number of stranded migrants in his country to reach "tens of thousands."

As the bloc's 28 interior ministers met in Brussels to assess the rapidly deteriorating situation, EU migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulus warned that "the unity of the union and lives -- human lives -- are at stake."

Camped out in Athens as he waited for the Macedonian border to open, Aman Golestani, a 22-year-old Afghan psychology student, expressed those fears in even starker terms.

"The Taliban are killing people like us," he said.

Associated Press writers Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, Macedonia, Lynne O'Donnell in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Derek Gatopoulos and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Police seek public's help in locating Ontario woman last seen in 1996

    Canada News CTV News
    BECKWITH TOWNSHIP, Ont. -- Provincial police are requesting the public's assistance in locating a woman who was reported missing more than five years ago. They say Carole Dianne Roy was reported missing on May 23, 2012, but investigators say the last confirmed sighting of Roy was on Oct. Source
  • R.I. lawmaker says she was told sexual favours would help career

    World News CTV News
    PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A Rhode Island lawmaker says a higher-ranking legislator told her sexual favours would allow her bills to go further. Democratic Rep. Teresa Tanzi told the Providence Journal that she's among the many women who have experienced sexual assault or harassment. Source
  • Judge in Hawaii blocks latest version of Trump's travel ban

    World News CTV News
    HONOLULU -- A federal judge in Hawaii blocked the Trump administration Tuesday from enforcing its latest travel ban, just hours before it was set to take effect. U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson granted Hawaii's request to temporarily block the policy that was to be implemented starting early Wednesday. Source
  • British spy chief says 'intense U.K. terrorist threat' is evolving rapidly

    World News CBC News
    Britain's domestic intelligence chief warned during a rare public speech Tuesday that the terrorist threat the country faces has accelerated at an alarming pace and is worse now than at any time in his 34-year career. Source
  • 'Absolute genuine kindness': RCMP officer replaces girls' tricycles after theft

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    BLACKS HARBOUR, N.B. — A New Brunswick Mountie is being praised for an act of kindness towards two young girls heartbroken by the theft of their tricycles. The Curtis family of Blacks Harbour, a small seaside village west of Saint John, noticed their daughters’ two tricycles missing from their driveway last week. Source
  • Dow Jones hits 23,000 mark for the first time

    World News CBC News
    The Dow Jones Industrial Average breached the 23,000-mark for the first time on Tuesday, powered by strong earnings from UnitedHealth Group and Johnson & Johnson. The blue-chip index has surpassed four similar 1,000-point milestones this year, indicating investor faith in the bull-run despite lofty stock valuations. Source
  • ISIS vows Russia World Cup slaughter

    World News Toronto Sun
    From the rubble of its crumbling caliphate, Islamic State is vowing to unleash bloodshed at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. ISIS has swamped social media with photos of the front of the Volgograd Arena in southern Russia, where some of the action will take place. Source
  • Finance Minister Bill Morneau faces calls for ethics investigation over assets [Video]

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    OTTAWA — Finance Minister Bill Morneau says he’d be willing to make changes to his financial affairs if asked to do so by the federal ethics watchdog as pressure mounts over why he hasn’t put his substantial assets in a blind trust. Source
  • Residential school survivors can proactively preserve documents: Bennett

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett says there is a proactive effort underway to tell residential school survivors that their records can still be preserved if they so choose. The move comes after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled earlier this month that records detailing the abuse of former students can eventually be destroyed. Source
  • Google sister company makes 'bold bet' with new tech-focused neighbourhood 'Sidewalk Toronto'

    Canada News CBC News
    Waterfront Toronto has announced that Sidewalk Labs, Google's city-building sister company, will be its partner in creating a new tech-focused neighbourhood on the eastern Toronto waterfront. Reports began circulating last spring that Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet Inc. Source