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Image: Reuters/A. Konstantinidis

Afghans risk lives to reach Europe

Masood Saifullah
August 19, 2015

Frustrated with insecurity and unemployment in their country, thousands of Afghans are attempting to reach Europe by sea. But the perilous journey has already claimed thousands of lives this year alone. DW examines.


"Work has never been this good. One cannot imagine how many people contact me every day who want to go to Europe," a human trafficker told DW on condition of anonymity.

The trafficker said that he offered three possible routes to his "passengers" - a word he and many others use for those who attempt a long and perilous journey from Afghanistan to Europe. The first and least costly route goes through Iran, Turkey and Greece. The second option is a more expensive but safer way through Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria and the Balkan countries. And then there is the quickest but also most expensive way: the airplane.

"Many decide for the first two options, as they don't have enough money and are generally unaware of the dangers they may face during the journey," the human trafficker said. As an example, he said the first option normally costs an illegal immigrant up to $6,600 and months of dangerous traveling to reach Greece from Afghanistan. The amount is small compared to the $24,300 many traffickers charge those wanting to travel to Europe by plane using fake passports provided by the traffickers. In order words, the cheaper the journey, the riskier it gets.

Ungarn errichtet Zaun an der Grenze zu Serbien
A Hungarian soldier stands next to a temporary fence on the border to Serbia, as the number of illegal immigrants attempting to reach Western Europe through the Balkans increasesImage: Getty Images/A. Kurucz

However, it is difficult to determine exactly how many people leave Afghanistan for Europe every year, as there are no official figures. 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.

"Ajmer, for instance, left Kabul for Europe three months ago. He decided to go there by sea, but no one has heard from him since," the trafficker said, fearing that Ajmer may have died during the journey.

"Very few people can actually afford travel to Europe by plane. In many cases, Afghans who worked with foreign troops, and feel that they've been left behind, take this option," he explained, adding that while these people could afford a flight, they were also under immediate danger after having assisted NATO. The Taliban usually target Afghans who help foreign troops, as they view them as "collaborators."

Insecurity and unemployment

As the security situation in the conflict-ridden country worsens, many Afghans see no option but to flee the violence in search of a better future. 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.

"I know I will have many problems when I arrive in Europe, but at least I will be able to live like a human being," an Afghan seeking to embark on the perilous journey told DW on condition of anonymity. "Once in Europe, I will be able to exercise my rights, and my children will have a better future," added the medical doctor currently based in Afghanistan's northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The doctor explains that while he is not currently facing an immediate danger, he fears he may become a victim of one of the many Taliban attacks that have rocked the South Asian nation ever since NATO forces ended their military mission last year.

'People are dying every day'

"We hear about people dying every day. Those victims have families. And I fear that my family or I could be next," he said. "That is why I don't even want to know how risky the journey to Europe is. It cannot be riskier than living in Afghanistan."

Afghanistan Anschlag am Flughafen Kabul
The Taliban have increased their attacks in recent months, causing a record number of casualties in the first half of 2015Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Marai

Islamuddin Jurat, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Immigration and Repatriations, believes the biggest factor behind emigration from Afghanistan is "propaganda" by human traffickers.

"They tell immigrants that a good life awaits them and that the trip is not as difficult as they might have heard. But we know this is not the case as many people have lost their lives," he told DW, adding that even after arriving in Europe life was not as easy as people were told by the traffickers.

Asked what the government was doing about this, Jurat explained Kabul did not have enough financial resources to launch campaigns against illegal emigration to Europe. However, the human trafficker who spoke to DW gave another explanation. "The government cannot ensure security, so they just let us do our work and take as many people as we can out of this country," he said.

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