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

  • Raqqa residents trapped by militants ahead of assault

    World News CTV News
    BEIRUT -- As U.S.-backed forces bear down on the de facto capital of the Islamic State group, the militants have taken their strategy of hiding behind civilians further than ever before, effectively using the entire population of Raqqa as human shields. Source
  • 'How dare you say these hateful things?' Woman takes on Islamophobia at school board meeting

    Canada News CBC News
    A Toronto area woman who confronted a group of people shouting Islamophobic comments at a Peel District School Board meeting told CBC News that the energy in the room that night was "explosive" and "sick." Christina Dixon, who grew up in the Peel Region and has a child who goes to school in the district, can be seen in videos of last Wednesday's meeting standing and shouting "Shame on you!" at a man who is ripping pages out of a Qur'an. Source
  • Trudeau government's vacant appointments backlog up 80%

    Canada News CBC News
    Five months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government assured Canadians that its new system would soon fix the backlog of appointments that need to be filled, the problem has gotten much worse. An analysis by CBC News reveals that one in three governor in council positions — ranging from directors of government agencies to members of tribunals that hear appeals of employment insurance or pension disputes — is currently vacant or occupied by an appointee whose term is past its expiry…
  • Byelection performance can be predictive of future results

    Canada News CBC News
    After the votes are counted in Monday's five federal byelections, only the parties that make gains will want to talk about the results. The others will point out that byelections are local affairs that tell us nothing about broader national trends; that they don't really matter. Source
  • 'I feel duped': Why bank employees with impressive but misleading titles could cost you big time

    Canada News CBC News
    Mike Black says he feels "completely betrayed" after trusting RBC employees with impressive-sounding titles to manage his life savings, only to earn far below the market average for six years. "I worked 35 years at two jobs and saved up a considerable amount due to the fact that I didn't have a pension and would need money for retirement," said Black, who managed to put away nearly $1 million. Source
  • Deadline for women to opt out of RCMP sex harassment settlement is today

    Canada News CBC News
    Today is the deadline for female Mounties to decide if they want to opt out of a historic sexual harassment class action lawsuit. Any woman who has worked as a civilian or regular member of the RCMP is eligible to file a claim under the negotiated settlement to compensate for on-the-job harassment and abuse. Source
  • Canada and U.S. on diverging tracks as Trump signs climate order: Don Pittis

    Canada News CBC News
    Only six months ago, Canada and the United States seemed like trains on the same track. Sure, there were policy differences. But especially after the election of a Liberal government in Ottawa, the two capitals were generally agreed on climate change, free trade, immigration, taxes, bank regulation and many other issues. Source
  • Identity of mysterious men, missing kids explored in laundry chute death inquest

    Canada News CBC News
    The forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Nadine Machiskinic said her injuries indicate she went down a Regina hotel laundry chute one of two ways – either feet first or head first while on her back. Source
  • Fear on the farm: In Vermont, migrant dairy workers and their bosses worry about Trump

    World News CBC News
    The milk parlour inside a dairy farm in central Vermont is a frenzy of activity. The sound of hooves on the concrete floor mixes with the clang of pumps and hoses as farm workers hurry to milk this batch of cows before the next cycles through. Source
  • GOP infighting stalled health reform: will it stall rest of Trump agenda?

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- In the screams of a right-wing radio host came the faint whisper of a fractured political coalition. "Lie after lie, year after year, election after election," Mark Levin shouted this week, in one of his inimitable radio rants. Source