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Afghanistan Tries To Stem Tide Of Migration 'Brain Drain'

Migrants and refugees arrive on Sykamia beach, west of the port of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey on September 22.
Migrants and refugees arrive on Sykamia beach, west of the port of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey on September 22.

"Don't go. Stay with me. There might be no return!"

That's the message Kabul is sending to Afghans thinking of abandoning their home country for a new life in the West.

The Refugees and Repatriations Ministry has launched a slick social-media campaign to get its message out, and doesn't pull any punches in its effort to dissuade Afghans from making the jump to Europe.

Graphics being circulated on Facebook and Twitter show that the ministry is using a healthy dose of stark images and guilt to urge Afghans to fulfill their patriotic duty and stay on to help rebuild their war-torn nation.

Another contrasts images of a thirsty child scrounging for drinking water at a refugee camp to one of a father and son reaping the benefits of Afghanistan's lush farmland. "I love my country. I will not leave," reads the Dari text. "I will build it for my loved ones."

Again drawing on the fear factor, a third graphic shows rescue boats and ships crammed with people, noting that migrants traveling to Europe risk drowning.

Government Takes Action

Afghans make up the second-largest group of new arrivals amid Europe's huge migrant influx, with the UN's refugee agency estimating that more than 50,000 Afghans have made the trip since the start of this year.

A number of factors have contributed to the outmigration. 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 more territory throughout Afghanistan, and violence is on the rise. And many Afghans say the new government has done little to improve their lives.

The exodus has set off alarm bells among Afghan leaders concerned about "brain drain" -- the departure of some of the country's best young minds.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has 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.

Ghani Hopeful Afghan Migrant Exodus Can Be Stopped
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"In the first few months of my presidency, I focused on the Afghan security forces," Ghani told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in a September 20 interview. "If the security forces couldn't stand on their own feet then everything else would have been meaningless."

Over the past four months the focus has turned to the economy, he said, promising that "you will see the results of this soon."

Voices Big And Small

A number of powerful political figures are contributing to the government's effort.

Former President Hamid Karzai, in a recent TV interview with Tolo News, weighed in by urging the country's youth to "stay and help rebuild your country."

Amrullah Saleh, the country's former spy chief and leader of the Green Trend political movement, suggested on Facebook that the best way to tackle the problem was to "instill hope and confidence among the population.''

Refugees and Repatriations Ministry spokesman Islamuddin Jorat, in a recent interview with Tolo News, highlighted the consequences of losing a generation of young minds the country has carefully cultivated since the fall of the Taliban.

"Among the migrants there are some with high education, even with doctorate degrees, and these young people could serve Afghanistan," Jorat said.

In addition to the government's campaign, a grassroots movement has emerged to convince Afghans not to leave.

Participants in the Twitter-based movement Afghanistan Needs You are posting photos of themselves holding up signs pledging their intention to remain in Afghanistan.

Modaser Islami, a Kabul-based activist and a member of the Afghan Society of Muslim Youth, says the organization is working to keep young people in schools and universities and trying to secure jobs for graduates. "We have secured an agreement with several universities to give admission to students with a substantial discount," he says.

"We are also working with recruitment agencies so they accept young people for jobs. By doing this we're trying to prevent youth from going abroad and facing the dangers of migration."

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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.