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German Campaign Asks Afghans To Think Twice Before They Go

A policewoman frisks an Afghan refugee at the German-Austrian border near Piding in September.
A policewoman frisks an Afghan refugee at the German-Austrian border near Piding in September.

"Leaving Afghanistan? Are you sure?"

That's the question the German Embassy in Kabul is asking Afghans considering fleeing their home country for a new life in the West. The answer, provided by way of a major media campaign, is that would-be migrants should think twice before they go.

Large billboards have been erected in Dari and Pashto, the two official languages in Afghanistan, in Kabul and other major cities. They direct Afghans to a Facebook page run by the Germany Embassy that seeks to debunk myths about guaranteed jobs and generous payments upon arrival in Germany.

The message, also being delivered by way of the Twitter hashtag #RumoursAboutGermany, is that the tales Afghans are hearing about the good life awaiting them in Germany are too good to be true.

"Do not believe the rumors and false information deliberately spread by human traffickers about the allegedly easy trip and the easy life in Germany," reads one post on Facebook. "Do not risk your lives by trying to flee to Europe. Human traffickers are criminals who are only interested in money. They don’t tell the truth and don’t care about human lives."

Thousands Flee For Europe

The launch of the campaign comes amid alarm at the high numbers of Afghans who have taken the arduous journey in search of asylum in Europe, the majority of them destined for Germany.

Since the start of the year, almost 150,000 Afghans have arrived in Greece -- the usual entry point to Europe for migrants -- making them the second-largest number of any country after Syria, according to the United Nations refugee agency. According to the Afghan Foreign Ministry, more than 80,000 Afghans have applied for asylum in Germany this year alone.

A number of factors have contributed to the out-migration. The withdrawal of foreign troops and organizations from Afghanistan has left a security vacuum in many areas of the country, and contributed to mass unemployment and a flagging economy. The Taliban has been gaining territory throughout Afghanistan, and violence is on the rise. Many Afghans say the new government has done little to improve their lives.

The German Embassy’s campaign has come under criticism from Human Rights Watch. Wenzel Michalski, Germany director for the New York-based organization, labelled the campaign "unusually stupid."

Given the soaring violence in Afghanistan, "it is completely idiotic or very, very cynical" of Berlin to discourage Afghans from fleeing their homeland, Michalski told Newsweek on November 18.

Fears Of Repatriation

Germany's Ambassador to Afghanistan, Markus Potzel, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on November 18 that more than half the Afghans who had applied for asylum in Germany have been rejected. "Currently, we have granted asylum to around 43 percent of Afghans," he said. "But we will deport the rest, although we have not started that process yet."

Potzel described the remaining 57 percent of Afghan applicants as "economic migrants" who failed to prove that "their lives were in danger."

EU states have made efforts to help returnees resettle, providing travel assistance and cash bonuses for those who go back willingly.

The Afghan government, meanwhile, has been alarmed at the prospect of having to resettle thousands of deportees sent back from Europe.

This week, Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and Refugees and Repatriations Minister Sayed Hussain Alemi Balkhi met EU ambassadors to plead for refugees not to be deported immediately, given growing insecurity and the approaching winter.

Balkhi revealed that 229 Afghans had been deported from the EU so far this year, although he did not reveal from which countries.

Persuading The Youth

In September, the Afghan government launched its own social-media campaign to dissuade people, especially young people, from leaving for Europe. The exodus of Afghans has set off alarm bells among Afghan leaders concerned about "brain drain" -- the departure of some of the country's best young minds.

A number of powerful political figures are contributing to the government's effort, including former President Hamid Karzai, and urging would-be refugees to help rebuild their homeland rather than flee it.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in an interview with RFE/RL in September, said he had made boosting the country's fragile economy a priority as part of Kabul's broader goal of providing a suitable environment for citizens to stay.

But his government has come under criticism for failing to fulfill those promises. "The main reason behind the increase in the mass migration of Afghans to Europe is the lack of trust in the government and officials," read an editorial in the Daily Afghanistan on November 17. "Most people who want to migrate have lost hope that the situation in Afghanistan will improve."

The Sarnawesht daily, in an editorial on November 17, described Ghani’s promises as "repeated, boring, and impractical."

"Young people have faced serious problems during President Ghani's term in office," the editorial added, citing unemployment as the biggest reason young people are leaving. "Unfortunately the government has not taken any step yet to address their problems."

In 2013, Australia funded a series of TV ads to dissuade Afghans from illegally migrating there. The videos, funded by Canberra and shown on Afghan TV, graphically detailed the dangers of the trip.

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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.