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Dreams Of Security, Prosperity Attract Afghans To Europe

Afghan men and women queue to apply for passports in Kabul (file photo)
Afghan men and women queue to apply for passports in Kabul (file photo)

At a hotel in the Afghan capital, Kabul, hundreds of young men from remote provinces in Afghanistan are applying for passports through an informal agent while they eat what could be their last breakfast on home soil.

A middle-aged man who goes by the name of Asadullah roams around the reception area, looking for people hoping to go to Europe. He is likely to find many.

This year has seen a dramatic surge in Afghans determined to leave their homeland. The Afghan passport office recently said it has been issuing up to 6,000 passports a day on average.

"Make the money ready when you can, and God willing, I will get you to your destination the soonest possible," Asadullah, a people smuggler, told me.

Millions of migrants and refugees have left Afghanistan in the past decade, yet recent factors have led to an increase in the number of people seeking to leave the country. The drawdown of NATO forces has dramatically affected both security and the job market, with millions of young Afghans left unemployed, according to recent figures.

More than 70,000 Afghans have left their country since January, according to an official at the Refugees and Repatriations Ministry.

"The main reason for migration from Afghanistan is unemployment and insecurity," said Ali Iqbal, an adviser to the ministry. "In the past, migration had a natural trend -- the majority migrated for work. Due to the security and economic changes, the trend has shifted -- now the educated are leaving their country, too."

Iqbal said the Taliban’s temporary occupation of Kunduz in September prompted many to seek refuge outside the country. "Nobody ever imagined the capital of a province would fall, but it happened. The fall of Kunduz intensified migration," he said.

Many of the country’s former elite are now leaving behind successful careers in order to migrate. Zubair Faiq, a Kabul University engineering graduate, who until last year worked for an international organization, is waiting in a long line to get a passport.

"I have looked for jobs for the past year and had no luck. I have no choice now but to leave," said Faiq, lamenting that most foreign organizations have already closed up shop in Afghanistan.

The loosening of borders in Europe and the potential of a tangible new life away from the insecurity of their home provinces is motivation for many Afghans trying to leave their homeland.

Hassan Reza is one of them. He sold his home in volatile Ghazni Province and is hoping to relocate his wife and two sons to Central Europe. Hassan has set aside $45,000 for the trip and has already obtained passports for his family.

"We plan to go to Germany through Iran and Turkey," he said. "We had a house that we sold to make the money for the trip. Here, there is no work. Nor is there security, so there is no reason to be here."

Many migrants are forced to entrust their future to smugglers like Asadullah.

"We can take you to any country you want, and we have people everywhere," Asadullah said, adding that going to Germany or Austria costs $12,000.

The money should be deposited with a Kabul money exchanger, according to Asadullah, as a guarantee. He says the money would then only be collected once the person reaches their destination.

Asadullah is the first point of contact in a network of people smugglers in different countries.

"I don’t go with you. We have people who will accompany you along the way," he reassures potential clients. The smuggler does not provide contact details. "When you have your money ready, you can find me at this hostel," he said.

The sudden increase in the number of Afghans seeking to reach Europe has pushed European embassies in Kabul to launch information campaigns to deter migrants before they leave.

Both the German and Norwegian foreign offices have commissioned billboards in Kabul with messages forewarning about the dangers of illegal migration.

For hopefuls like Reza, however, the pros of migration have already been weighed against the cons.

"We struggled with war and hunger, and I do not want my children to live a life like I did," he said. "If I get there, at least my children will hopefully have a better life.