The family of a 106-year-old Afghan woman, an asylum seeker in Sweden, says she is now fighting for her life while they await a decision about her fate in a Swedish appeals court after authorities rejected her asylum application.
Bibikhal Uzbeki, born in 1910, is soon expecting to celebrate her 107th birthday. She made a perilous journey through mountains and deserts in 2015. Her son and grandson carried Uzbeki on their backs during most of the journey through deserts, mountains, and forests from Iran, where the family had lived in exile for eight years.
Twelve members of her extended family paid approximately $5,000 each to people smugglers to help trek from Iran to Turkey and onward to Greece and the rest of Europe. In June, however, the Swedish Migration Agency rejected her application. Other members of the family are going through various phases of the asylum process. While her case is still in the appeals process, Uzbeki's health began to rapidly deteriorate after learning about the rejection.
Her 22-year-old grandson, Mohmmad Uzbeki, says his grandmother suffered a devastating stroke after learning about the rejection.
“Our grandmother became half-paralyzed. She cannot speak properly now. She struggles 10 to 15 times to say just one word,” he told RFE/RL’s Gandhara website. “She cannot sleep all night long. She’s scared. She seems to be hallucinating most nights.”
Ahmad Zaki Khalil, the head of the migration committee at the Afghan Association in Sweden, knows Uzbeki’s ordeal. He says her family have suffered for decades after fleeing persecution by militants during fighting between the Taliban and mujahedin in their homeland in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz Province in the late 1990s.
“Sometimes the militants were telling her family that Afghanistan was not their country because they were ethnic Uzbeks so they had to leave for Uzbekistan,” he said.
Khalil says that an October agreement between Kabul and Sweden on migrating issues stipulates that Swedish authorities should take the health status of asylum seekers into consideration.
“Considering the health condition of Bibikhal, the Swedish migration agency based on Article 6 of the memorandum of understanding between the government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the government of Sweden, should grant her and her family asylum,” he said.
Article 6 of the memorandum says that “prior to returning Afghan nationals, Sweden will give fair consideration to humanitarian aspects in accordance with international law to unaccompanied minors, single women and women who are head of their families, family unity, elderly, and seriously sick people.”
Khalil says that even if her asylum appeals in Sweden are rejected, Turkey is keen on offering Uzbeki’s family permanent residence permits. “The Turkish ambassador in Sweden has contacted the family, but they still prefer to wait for the entire appeal process up to the higher court of appeal,” he said.
Mohammad Uzbeki confirmed the Turkish offer but is hopeful that Sweden will not force them to return to Afghanistan, where major cities such as the capital, Kabul, and Mazar-e Sharif are frequently targeted in militant attacks.
“All we want from the Swedish government is to have the liberty to live as a human being in this country, nothing else,” he said.