Afghan men queue to get a passport outside the passport office in Kabul.
At a hostel in southwest Kabul, hundreds of young men from remote provinces in Afghanistan are applying for their passport through an informal agent while they eat what could be their last breakfast on home soil. A middle-aged man who goes by the name of Asadullah is roaming around the reception area, looking for migrants planning to go to Europe. Likelihood is he will find many: A report issued by the passport office in 2015 states that up to 6,000 Afghan passports are issued every day.
70,000 Afghans have left the country in 2015
“Make the money ready when you can, and God Willing, I will get you to your destination the soonest possible,” Asadullah, a people smuggler, told our undercover reporter.
Millions of migrants and refugees have left Afghanistan in the last decade, yet recent factors have led to an increase in the number of people seeking to leave the country. The reduction of NATO forces has dramatically affected both security and the job market, with millions of young Afghans left unemployed, according to recent figures.
More than 70,000 Afghans have left their country since January, according to an official at the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations (MoRR). “The main reason for migration from Afghanistan is unemployment and insecurity,” says Ali Iqbal, an advisor to the MoRR. “In the past, migration had a natural trend – the majority migrated for work. Due to the security and economic changes, the trend has shifted – now the educated are leaving their country too.”
Afghan police control the crowd outside the passport office
Iqbal says the Taliban’s temporary occupation of Kunduz in September this year caused a larger number of migrants than expected to seek refuge outside the country. “Nobody ever imagined that the capital of a province would fall, but it happened. The fall of Kunduz intensified migration,” added Iqbal.
Many of the country’s former elite are now leaving behind successful careers to migrate. Zubair Faiq, a Kabul University engineering graduate – who up until last year worked for an international organization – is standing in a long queue to get a passport. “I have looked for jobs for the past year and had no luck. I have no choice now but to leave,” says Faiq, lamenting that most foreign organisations have already left.
The loosening of borders in Europe and the potential of a tangible new life away from the insecurity of their home provinces spur many Afghans trying to leave their homeland on.
From Ghazni to Germany
Hassan Reza is one of them. He sold his home in volatile Ghazni Province and is hoping to relocate his wife and two sons to Central Europe. Hassan has set aside $45,000 for the trip and has already obtained passports for he and his family. “We plan to go to Germany through Iran and Turkey,” Reza told Afghanistan Today. “We had a house which we sold to make the money for the trip. Here, there is no work. Nor is there security: so there is no reason to be here.”
Many migrants are forced to entrust their future to smugglers like Asadullah. “We can take you to any country you want and we have people everywhere,” Asadullah told Afghanistan Today. Going to Germany or Austria costs 12,000 USD, according to the smuggler. The money should be deposited with a Kabul money exchanger, according to Asadullah, as a guarantee. The smuggler says the money would then only be collected once the person reaches their destination.
Asadullah is the first point of contact in a network of people smugglers in different countries. “I do not go with you. We have people who will accompany you along the way,” he reassures potential clients. The smuggler does not provide contact details: “When you have your money ready, you can find me in this hostel," he says.
The sudden increase in the number of Afghans seeking to reach Europe has pushed European embassies in Kabul to new PR strategies to deter migrants before they leave. Both the German and Norwegian foreign offices have commissioned billboards in Kabul with messages forewarning about the dangers of illegal migration.
For hopefuls like Hassan Reza however, the pros of migration have already been weighed against the cons. “We struggled with war and hunger and I do not want my children to live a life like I did,” says Hassan Reza. “If I get there, at least my children will hopefully have a better life.”