On August 6, after hearing about the Taliban offensive in southern Afghanistan, Harif Ahmadzai fled his hometown of Gardez without saying goodbye to his parents. That marked the beginning of a 106-day journey to a makeshift camp in northern France – and the chance to sail a perilous trip to the UK.
“If I stay, they will kill me. They’re clearing the land,” said the 25-year-old soldier and father of two, with scars on his body that he said were caused by a car bomb set off by Muslim gunmen three years earlier. . Two of his cousins, also in the military, were murdered, he added. “We’ve been helping the government all our lives, but they abandoned us on the ground, leaving us there to die.”
At a camp in Grande-Synthe near the port of Dunkirk, Ahmadzai is among a growing number of men and children fleeing the Taliban regime in the wake of the attack. chaotic withdrawals of US and UK troops from Afghanistan over the summer. These men are joining hundreds of migrants trying to reach British shores by sea from northern France, after a police crackdown prompted clandestine border crossings by train, car, and van. Loads and cars become too difficult. Campers estimate there are about 100 Afghans waiting to cross the Channel, even after 27 migrants died at sea last week.
Anna Richel, coordinator at Utopia 56, a charity in Dunkirk, has noticed “a lot of people from Afghanistan” in recent months, including unaccompanied minors. Governments across Europe “need to discuss creating a safe place in France for people applying for asylum, as well as a legal way for them to travel,” she said.
While the FT was unable to verify the individual’s account details, the countries they came from and the crackdown they recounted suggest that their asylum applications would be credible. High rate of successful asylum applications from Afghans in the UK: of the 826 cases decided in the year to June, 62% were granted asylum or some other form of refugee protection after upon first filing. About half of early-stage rejecters usually succeed in overturning the decision, meaning about 80% will eventually succeed.
But they have to get to the UK first.
Ahmadzai collected about $10,000 for his escape. Half of the money came from the sale of the land and savings stored in the house, and the other half from a loan. Much of this money is used to pay smugglers to enter Iran from the border town of Nimruz and travel across Europe. In Dunkirk, he spent £2,500 on a motorized inflatable boat ticket to the UK – or the “game” as campers called the risky crossing.
When the Financial Times met him, he said he had attempted to cross the sea three times – the first time the engine was cut off, and the police had slashed boats at the beach on two other occasions. If they don’t get to the other side, they can retry as many times as they want to get there at no extra charge.
Ahmedzai is patient. In the early afternoon in Grande-Synthe, with temperatures just above freezing, he took off his shoes and laid his coat on the ground to pray. When he was done, he offered to accommodate a 14-year-old Afghan boy who had come to the camp alone.
Haroon Kabuli, who said he served as a translator for German forces, said his own journey began before the US and British troops withdrew. He said he was arrested while driving a German government vehicle, detained in the northeastern town of Kunduz and regularly beaten for several weeks in February. Once he escaped, he headed straight for Nimruz, from where he set out across the Middle East to Europe, paying $3,000 to smugglers along the way.
He said he was first denied asylum in Greece after being told he needed to apply in Germany because of his previous translation job. After paying smugglers another €2,500, he went to Germany, where he spent two months seeking asylum. In the end he was told he couldn’t because “Dublin Regulations“.
The rule usually requires refugees to apply for asylum in the first deemed safe country they arrive – Greece in the case of Kabuli – or wait 18 months if they don’t have the right to work first. when they can reapply. The EU registered a total of 56,000 asylum applications in August 2021 alone, according to EU data. Nearly a fifth of that number is from Afghans, who have overtaken Syrians as the largest applicant group.
According to EU data, many applications typically reach the EU in countries such as Malta or Greece, where a large number of applications take more than six months to process. When they leave, they cannot get asylum in countries like Germany and France.
“People want to stay in France,” said Kabuli. “All the Afghans here – you can ask all these people here – they tried to apply for asylum but they failed. [hit with] Dublin. Dublin means ‘you are nothing’. “
After Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the Dublin framework, meaning that, while the UK system is difficult and slow to navigate, it is now unlikely to return to mainland Europe. The fact that many of them speak English and have relatives in the UK is also a big draw. As of September, the UK has received 1,974 asylum applications from Afghan nationals, representing 5% of all asylum applications.
After Kabul fell to the Taliban in August, Great Britain promise to set an Afghan Citizens Resettlement Plan to accommodate up to 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, at a rate of 5,000 a year for the next 4 years. However, ACRS is yet to be opened and no date has been given for its implementation.
A leading member of the British-Afghan community, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said: “We need to understand that we can expect people to arrive illegally if there is no road. legal.”
Kabuli was one of those who chose the secret route to the UK. “There is at least a place to sleep for us there, some food for us there. . . until our asylum application is processed,” he said. “Here,” he said, pointing to dozens of tents that had been knocked down by the rain, “nothing.”