Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters

Germany's Other Refugees

The Politics of Deciding Who Stays and Who Goes

On a cold night in late February, Anayat Tajik stood at the Munich airport and watched as a charter flight took off for Kabul with 18 Afghans on board. The German government was deporting them, and Tajik was one of hundreds of people—most of them German citizens—who came to the airport in protest against the removals.

“I fear that I'll be next,” Tajik said. He is a 20-year-old asylum seeker from Baghlan, a province of Afghanistan that has been overrun by the Taliban.

Tajik’s concerns are, unfortunately, not overstated. Two weeks earlier, he received notice from the German immigration authorities that his asylum application had been rejected. At the airport that night, he told me he couldn't imagine what would happen to him if he were forced to return.

“Every Afghan here tonight is very afraid,” he said, holding a sign on which he had written in German, “Migration is not a crime.” “If it were possible for me to live in Afghanistan, I wouldn't have come to Germany. Afghanistan is my country.”

Few would consider any refugee lucky, but Afghan asylum seekers have emerged from Europe's refugee crisis with the least luck of them all. Since Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s borders in 2015, declaring that her country would welcome an unlimited number of refugees, Germany has absorbed over a million asylum seekers, more than all other European nations combined. Refugees and migrants continue to arrive in Germany at a rate of 14,000 per month.

After Syrians, Afghans represent the second-largest group of asylum seekers in Germany. According to data from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, more than 127,000 Afghans and 266,000 Syrians applied for asylum in Germany in 2016. Yet Afghans are far less likely to be granted refugee status than their counterparts from Syria and Iraq. And unlike other rejected applicants, who come from relatively safe countries like Albania, Morocco, Serbia, and Turkey, Afghanistan is a war zone. Europe, however, seems to disagree.

According to German government data, only 48 percent of Afghan asylum seekers received refugee status in 2015, compared to 92 percent of Eritreans, 89 percent of Iraqis, and 96 percent of Syrians. Afghan applicants are recognized at a lower rate not only in Germany, but throughout Europe, said Martin Rentsch of the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

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