Some 7,000 Afghan migrants in Sweden face an uncertain future after authorities handed them formal deportation orders requiring them to return to Afghanistan.
But many Afghans who undertook the often perilous journey to Sweden years ago are reluctant to return to their restive homeland, where thousands have been killed in fighting and insurgent attacks this year alone.
Now living in Stockholm, Afghan asylum seeker Laila Siddiqi, 43, said the fate of her family hangs in the balance after Swedish authorities rejected their asylum application for a third time.
Siddiqi said Swedish border police now have their case file and that it can deport their five-member family at any time.
“Our three children have no peace. We don't sleep at night. We cannot speak with each other,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan of their sense of being rejected in what they thought would be their new home. “Sometimes when I wake up at night, I see that my son is awake, and my daughter is crying. My husband often goes out of the room [to escape the unease].”
Siddiqi said that after receiving their deportation orders, their monthly cash allowance decreased significantly. Siddiqi, her 24-year-old daughter, and her husband used to receive $187 each while her two teenage boys received $155. But that amount has now shrunk to less than $5 apiece, which has made their lives more difficult in the past two months.
Like more than 1.5 million immigrants from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and some African countries, Siddiqi and her family trekked from Herat in western Afghanistan to Sweden in 2015. They paid some $15,000 to people smugglers in Iran, Turkey, Greece, and the rest of Europe to help them in reaching Scandinavia in just under 40 days.
"We got stuck in a forest in Turkey for four days as it poured from above. We had no water or food,” she recalled of the journey. “Once we reached the seashore, we were crammed into an inflatable boat, which remained at sea for five hours. Toward the end we were saved from drowning [after our dinghy capsized].”
Siddiqi’s looming deportation is part of a 2016 agreement between Sweden and Afghanistan. Under the arrangement, Stockholm can deport Afghans to Kabul voluntarily or involuntarily after their asylum cases are rejected.
Since the beginning of this year, the authorities have deported 384 people to Afghanistan, according to the Swedish Migration Agency.
“If an asylum application is refused, it means that requirements for asylum have not been fulfilled according to the Swedish Migration Agency,” the agency said in a written response to Radio Free Afghanistan. “If the application is refused applicants can appeal the decision to the court. When the decision has become legally binding the applicant needs to return to his/her home country,” it noted, adding that if the return is not voluntarily “the Swedish Migration Agency can hand over the enforcement to the police.”
In November the International Organization of Migration (IOM) office in Afghanistan said it supported or partially assisted the return of more than 1,700 Afghans from Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia since January.
Thousands of Afghans who have returned since the 2015 exodus are finding it difficult to adjust to life in their homeland.
"Afghanistan's future is not good. There is a constant war and frequent suicide attacks,” says Imam Shah Qaderi, a 38-year-old baker who returned to Kabul after spending two years in Austria. “Now when you go out into the city, you do not know whether you will return home alive.”
The war in Afghanistan is still one of the most violent conflicts in the world. According the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, more than 2,500 civilians were killed while over 5,600 were wounded across Afghanistan during the first nine months of this year.
The Afghan authorities, however, say they are doing their best to help the returnees. Sayed Hussein Alemi Balkhi, Afghanistan’s refugees and repatriation minister, says their efforts might not be enough due to limited government capacity.
"We cannot provide the services we want for the migrants and cannot do what they expect, but the government has tried to do what it can do,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan.
Back in Sweden, Siddiqi and her family are not heartened by such prospects. “If the Swedish government wants to deport us, it is signing a death warrant for five people,” she said.
In Sweden and across Europe, however, asylum laws have tightened after the 2015 influx and the general attitude toward migrants and refugees continues to be less welcoming.