6 December 2017

How other EU countries are handling forced returns to Afghanistan

A number of European countries that accepted a large number of asylum seekers from Afghanistan are carrying out forced deportations to Afghanistan. This is shown by a brief report from the Swedish Contact Point of the EMN, the European Migration Network.
“The purpose of the report is to contribute facts and statistics to the current debate”, says Bernd Parusel, an expert at EMN Sweden.

One purpose of the EMN is to produce reliable and comparable information on migration and asylum issues in EU member states.* Against the background of the ongoing debate on returns of rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan, EMN’s Swedish Contact Point sent an ad-hoc query to 28 countries participating in EMN regarding how they are approaching forced returns to Afghanistan.

17 of 28 member states answered the questions. Some member states that received a larger number of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, such as Germany and France, did not respond.

“With Germany especially, it is of course a pity that they did not respond, because of what it would have added to the comparison: they are the largest of all the receiving countries.” There may be various reasons why member countries did not answer. “It may be because the EMN contact points in the different countries are over-stretched, or they do not have good enough documentation to answer, but missing answers may also be due to political reasons”, Bernd Parusel says.

Forced returns from larger receiving countries

Despite this, the countries that answered include several of the larger receiving countries, such as Austria, Belgium, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands.

“All these larger receiving countries that responded to our questions state that they are currently carrying out forced returns to Afghanistan.”

Seven countries, including Croatia and the Czech Republic, state that they are not doing so. “The main reason is that they have very few asylum seekers from Afghanistan or in any case, very few or none whose cases are subject to forced return”, says Bernd Parusel.

A small number of countries state that they are not carrying out forced returns to Afghanistan in view of the situation in the country of origin (Estonia), political reasons (Luxembourg) or difficulties in establishing the identity of applicants (Croatia). Cyprus states that forced returns theoretically could be carried out, but that difficulties in cooperating with Afghanistan’s authorities present an obstacle.

EMN also asked whether particular groups of rejected asylum seekers are excepted from forced returns to Afghanistan, such as women, unaccompanied minors or families. Seven of the responding countries state that exceptions are made, or that there are special rules for certain groups.

In practice, a number of countries do not return children, women, or vulnerable persons to Afghanistan by force at all. This includes countries such as Belgium, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.

Reception for unaccompanied children

In certain countries, it is impossible in principle to deport unaccompanied minors if there is no reception (e.g. family members or a comparable network) arranged for them in their country of origin. This is how Norway, Sweden and Hungary responded.

Other countries, including Croatia and Latvia, answer that in principle, they have no restrictions on forced returns to Afghanistan in regards to asylum seekers who have received a rejection.

“One should remember that even countries that answer that they can deport unaccompanied minors (for example) to Afghanistan by force seldom do so in practice”, says Bernd Parusel.

That this is the case is also suggested by the answers that countries have submitted on the total number of people, both adults and children, that were returned by force to Afghanistan during the first half of 2017. Most of the smaller receiving countries stated that they did not forcibly return anyone to Afghanistan at all. The Netherlands and Sweden gave figures of 35 and 34 people, respectively. Norway carried out the most forced returns (142 persons) during 2017, among those countries that responded to the query.

Percentage of approvals varies greatly

Finally, EMN Sweden investigated the percentage of approvals** of asylum seekers from Afghanistan in various countries. To get an accurate picture, EMN Sweden used statistics from Eurostat for the first and second quarters of 2017, rather than the answers from the member states, which varied in regards to reported time periods and methods for calculating protection rates. Therefore, numbers are available for many EU countries, such as Germany, but not for Norway.

The statistics show that the protection rates for Afghan applicants vary greatly. Bulgaria grants protection to 0.5% of all asylum seekers from Afghanistan. At the other end is Italy, which grants residence permits to 91.7% of all people from Afghanistan. At 48.2%, Sweden lies very close to the EU average of 47.4%.

“The report does not analyse what the large differences are due to. However, we see that the three countries that have made the most decisions in Afghan asylum cases - Germany, Sweden and Austria - are all very close to one another, with protection rates of around 46-50%. Another general conclusion from the numbers is that none of the EU countries in the report finds that all people from Afghanistan have a need for protection”, Bernd Parusel says.

Facts – no value judgment

He hopes that the report can contribute to a better-informed debate in society regarding forced returns to Afghanistan.

“Our report should be seen as a factual contribution to this debate. We do not make any value judgments at all regarding the results”, says Bernd Parusel.

Read a summary of the ad-hoc query, and see the collected answers here.external link

The EMN was created in 2003 to develop a system of information exchange within the EU on migration-related matters. EMN Sweden is financed by the European Union and the Swedish Migration Agency.

* EMN consists of the EU member states (except for Denmark) plus Norway.

** The percentage of positive decisions out of all decisions made at the first instance.