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Germany begins controversial collective deportations to Afghanistan

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Germany begins controversial collective deportations to Afghanistan
The plane prepares to take off from Frankfurt Airport. Photo: DPA.
11:53 CET+01:00
On Thursday morning a flight carrying 34 rejected asylum seekers arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul. They were the first people to leave Germany in a highly contested programme of "collective deportations" to the war-torn country.

Awaiting the men were Afghan police officers and refugee ministries officials, as well as representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The mood was sombre among the deported men. Some were sad, others were angry.

Babur Sedik said that he had spent four years in Germany and had never made it out of a refugee camp.

The 22-year-old said he has no idea what to do next. He comes from Kabul province, which is still relatively stable.

“But if the security situation doesn't improve and I don't find work, then I won't have a choice - I'll have to flee again. Or I'll go to Pakistan or some other country.”

For Rahmat Khan, the possibilities are even slimmer. Also 22, he comes from Paktia province and he says that he can't go back as the Taliban are everywhere there.

He lived in Germany for five years, working as a waiter and learning the language.

“In Germany I wanted to work towards a better future for my family,” he says, adding that he has no idea where he will go now.

The so-called Sammelabschiebungen (collective deportations) have resulted in protest due to the unstable security situation in Afghanistan.

In large areas of the country, government troops are still battling fighters loyal to the fundamentalist Taliban group.

According to the UN, the first six months of 2016 saw the highest civilian casualties in the civil war since records began in 2009: 5,166 people were killed or maimed during that period, a third of whom were children.

Several hundred people turned up on Wednesday evening at Frankfurt Airport, from where the flight to Kabul took off, to protest the deportations.

Anton Hofreiter, leader of the Green Party in the German parliament, called the deportation programme a “callous game”, while the doctors' organization IPPNW said it showed a disregard for human rights.

The German government, which has pledged not to deport rejected asylum seekers back to war zones, has defended the policy by claiming that the security situation in Afghanistan is varied, with certain regions being relatively secure.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, speaking in Berlin, defended the returns as "right and necessary" to keep the country's refugee system operational.

"If German forces work to provide more security, if they work with others to advance reconstruction, then it is possible and reasonable for the Afghan population to return to their own home country," he told reporters.

De Maiziere, a former defence minister, argued that Taliban attacks largely targeted "representatives of the international community" in Afghanistan, not the civilian population.

And he noted that Sweden, another major host country for Afghan asylum seekers, had organised a similar flight of returns on Tuesday.

De Maiziere said the 34 Afghan returnees were all men and that about one third of them had been convicted of crimes.

Germany deployed troops to Afghanistan as part of the US-led invasion in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. It was the third-largest contributor to NATO forces in Afghanistan behind the United States and Britain.

Horst Seehofer, leader of Bavaria's arch-conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), welcomed the deportations, telling broadcaster ARD on Wednesday night: “I hope that won't be a one-off action.”

According to Die Zeit, the next collective deportation to Afghanistan is set to take place in January.

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