High school students in Cottbus are campaigning to save three new Afghan classmates from deportation. They say their new friends have become a "big part of our school community," and could be killed by Taliban back home.
German high school students are fighting to keep their new Afghan classmates. The Waldorf school in the eastern city of Cottbus is trying to raise money to fight the legal case of the three Afghan teenagers, who say they will face forced recruitment to the Taliban, or death, back home.
"We're campaigning TOGETHER for our classmates, who have become a big part of our school community, and we can't just let them go," said the school's online petition, which has gathered nearly 50,000 signatures and is addressed to German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and the Brandenburg state parliament. They said the school had "helped [the Afghans] to integrate, find friends and build themselves a new, dignified life."
The three boys, named Wali, Nik Mohammad and Noorodin in a local newspaper report, all aged 19, have been attending the Waldorf school in Cottbus for a year along with four other Afghan refugees, though they have lived in Germany much longer.
The petition says they received "deportation notices" at the end of February, though their German is already good enough for them to be attending regular classes along with other students. "They're distributed across the 10th, 11th and 12th grades," said Sara Wolkers, one of the students behind the campaign. "They have extra German lessons, but otherwise they do math or whatever with everyone else."
All three came from "small villages in Afghanistan," the petition reads. "They had work and a family. For each of the boys a return would mean forced recruitment to the Taliban, and death if they refused." "Anyone who goes back is considered a deserter and is tortured and killed," Wali told the local "Lausitzer Rundschau" newspaper.
Few reasons given
The students are holding a benefit concert on Friday to raise money to pay for legal representation for the three Afghans, with the school itself having already pledged 1,000 euros ($1,073). Wolkers said that their deportation orders gave them a month's notice, but all three have appealed the decision and have time to await the result of the appeals.
Wolkers also said it was absolutely unclear why these three teenagers had been chosen for deportation among the seven Afghans at the school. Like all asylum-seekers in Germany, the three boys had given interviews to the immigration authorities, but their testimony about the dangers back home did not appear to have been heeded, she said.
"They got an explanatory statement with their letters, but the strange thing is that the content of the interviews was not mentioned in the synopsis there," Wolkers told DW. "Certain things were downplayed, and the reasons why they left - the forced recruitment to the Taliban - weren't even mentioned."
Instead, Wolkers said the authorities told them that they weren't categorized as "real" refugees, because they came from Afghanistan, "and Afghanistan had been designated as safe."
Deporting into a war zone
Germany's policy of deporting refugees back to Afghanistan has come under serious criticism since it was approved by the Bundestag in December. Many refugee rights organizations have pointed out that only a month earlier, the German Foreign Ministry had issued a new warning against traveling to the country, and said that virtually all of the country was still a conflict zone. The United Nations said last year that civilian casualties had hit record highs.
"In the whole of Afghanistan there is a high risk of being a victim to a kidnapping or a violent crime," the travel warning reads. "Throughout the country, there can be attacks, robberies, kidnappings and other violent crimes."
Despite this, mass deportations to Afghanistan have been carried out from Germany since December, though some states have refused to follow the federal government's policy. Richard Arnold, mayor of the small southern German town of Schwäbisch Gmünd, condemned the policy on Friday, arguing that the political pressure to deport meant it was affecting the "wrong people."
"The bad thing is that it's only about who can deport the most people," he told the "taz" newspaper. "Refugees who have committed crimes wait for their trials, they can't be deported ... so the ones left are the ones who can be picked up. But those are mostly the integrated ones."
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry of Brandenburg professed himself skeptical of the students' petition, arguing that it would be unusual for Afghans to simply be deported if they were so young. "We'd have to know more exactly," he told DW. He suggested that it was possible that the young men's asylum applications had been rejected - though this did not necessarily mean they were to be deported.
A spokesman for the Cottbus city administration could not confirm to DW that the deportation notices had been sent out, but said they "may have been."
According to the Interior Ministry spokesman, Brandenburg has not deported anyone to Afghanistan in the past year - though he said that 10 Afghan asylum seekers had been sent to other European countries under the Dublin regulations, and four others had returned to Afghanistan "voluntarily."