What challenges do Afghan asylum seekers face in Germany? | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 17.09.2015
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What challenges do Afghan asylum seekers face in Germany?

More and more Afghans are arriving in Germany in pursuit of a better life as the security situation worsens back home. But what conditions do they face and how do their lives change? DW examines.

After her father and uncles were killed in Afghanistan, then 11-year-old Nazifa Hussaini started life as a refugee with her two brothers and mother in Iran in 1985. Like millions of other Afghans who took refuge in the country or in neighboring Pakistan, Nazifa's family was fleeing persecution from Afghanistan's Soviet-backed regime.

In Iran she would meet her future husband - also an Afghan refugee - and raise two children with him, hoping that one day they would be able to return to their home country. Life for Afghan refugees in the Islamic Republic was extremely difficult, said 41-year-old Hussaini, pointing out that refugees were not allowed to work and that their children couldn't receive proper education due to their status.

The family ultimately decided to return to Afghanistan in 2010. But after witnessing the growing levels of violence in Kabul, her husband realized he had put his family at risk in what had become one of the world's most dangerous countries for women and children. Hussaini and her family finally decided to embark on a perilous journey to Europe in 2014.

"We were on the move for five-and-a-half months. It was very difficult for the children," she told DW. After finally reaching Turkey, the journey became even riskier as they had to cross international waters in a small crowded boat, she said. "The traffickers gave us the boat and just showed us a star which they said would take us to Greece if we followed it," Hussaini said.

Afghanische Immigranten erreichen Griechenland mit einem Schlauchboot

According to IOM, over 2,340 illegal immigrants have lost their lives in the first half of this year alone while trying to get into Europe by sea

The family eventually made it to Greece and then to Germany last December. "A lot of people died trying to make it to Greece, but we were lucky," she added.

The case of Hussaini and her family is not an isolated one. A growing number of Afghans are trying to flee poverty and insecurity in their country and heading towards Europe in search of a better life.

It is difficult to determine exactly how many people leave Afghanistan for Europe every year, as there are no official figures. But according to the International Organization for Immigration (IOM), more than 2,340 illegal immigrants have lost their lives in the first half of this year alone while trying to get into Europe by sea.

A long wait

Hussaini and her family now live in the German city of Cologne where her children are finally able to attend the same schools as local children. But their hardship is far from over as their asylum application is yet to be approved by the German government.

As Europe is confronted with a record influx of refugees this year, Nadia Saberi, a Cologne-based immigration lawyer, says it's unclear how long it will take for German authorities to process asylum applications.

"Until last year, it would take an asylum seeker an average of one to two years to get a response from the immigration office on whether their application was approved or rejected," she said. But the higher-than-normal number of immigrants arriving in Germany this year has further strained the process.

The long wait has frustrated many Afghan asylum seekers. 16-year-old Akmal Akhanzada, who arrived in Germany this August, told DW that some immigrants had taken a "wrong turn in life" due the long waiting time. "I know people who are taking drugs because they have been waiting for years and still don't know what will happen to their asylum request," he said.

Despite the precarious security situation in the South Asian country, the German government does not recognize Afghanistan as a country in "a state of war," said lawyer Saberi. Asylum seekers hence need to prove a "direct individual threat" from insurgents to receive asylum status in the European country, the expert added.

Nonetheless, Saberi pointed out that Germany does not deport Afghan asylum seekers even if their asylum requests have been rejected. In such cases, the immigration office issues temporary documents that allow them to remain in the country.

"German immigration laws have changed in the favor of asylum seekers, but even now they cannot freely work or study unless their request for asylum has been approved by the government," the lawyer noted, pointing to the harsh conditions these people face after arriving in Germany.

A never-ending conflict

However, this is unlikely to deter more Afghans from leaving their homeland. "Afghans are not only deeply afraid but also much disappointed about socio-political and economic prospects of the country," said Siegfried O. Wolf, director of research at the Brussels-based South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF).

According to United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), almost 5,000 civilians were killed or injured in the first half of 2015 alone as a result of the fighting between the Afghan security forces and the insurgents.

Besides insecurity, analyst O. Wolf says that poor governance, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and unemployment are other key factors behind immigration from Afghanistan. But the analyst believes there is not much the Afghan government can do to stop Afghans from leaving their country, at least in the short run.