This week, the German government deported to Kabul another 26 rejected Afghan asylum seekers – the second such wave of deportations in as many months. They come home to a city that is both divided and insecure.
There is the Kabul of the embassies: barricaded fortresses where diplomats hold meetings via Skype with their counterparts in other local embassies and commute to Afghan ministries via helicopter.
Then, there is the other Kabul, home to a growing population of some four million, where explosions and suicide bombings take a daily, terrible toll on civilians.
It is a city struggling to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees that Pakistan has driven out and displaced persons fleeing the widening conflict in the rest of the country.
In this Kabul, economic opportunity has plummeted, civil society is struggling, and fear has replaced many of the hopes the post-2001 transition had brought.
In October 2016, the European Union arm-twisted the Afghan government into potentially accepting back tens of thousands of deportees. And while Germany is not alone in its efforts to speed up deportations of rejected asylum seekers, it has moved swiftly, turning a blind eye to the dangers by declaring Kabul safe – or safe enough for Afghans.
This week, German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere displayed a willful ignorance about the skyrocketing civilian toll and justified recent deportations by arguing that Taliban attacks have been aimed at “representatives of the international community” in Afghanistan and not the Afghan population.
Statistics compiled by the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan prove that is wrong: attacks by the Taliban and other insurgents in 2016 targeting civilian demonstrators, educational and religious facilities, and the media were the deadliest since 2001.
Extolling a “safe” Kabul is a thin cover for what Western governments are too ashamed to admit: despite all the promises and the billions spent, Afghanistan is not a success story. It’s teetering on the edge of a humanitarian crisis.
Germany and other EU member states should stop deporting rejected Afghan asylum seekers until it is clear how the Afghan government copes with Pakistan’s mass forced return of refugees.
They should not detain Afghans but instead grant them the most favorable status possible under national law.
Returning desperate Afghan asylums seekers to conflict and crisis is not just inhumane, it will add to the instability that drove them to flee in the first place.
Patricia Gossman is the Senior Researcher for Human Rights Watch Afghanistan