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Going Nowhere Fast, More Seen Coming: Greece’s Afghan Refugees

Amid fears that another wave is coming with the rapid fall of Afghanistan, abandoned by the United States and NATO to the Taliban after 20 years of fighting the terrorists, Afghan refugees in Greece remain in limbo.

Like virtually all the 100,000 refugees and migrants in detention centers and camps in Greece, the country they reached after going to Turkey fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, the Afghans can wait two years or more for asylum applications to be processed.

Some 40,000 of them are Afghans, stuck in a no-man's land after running away from the endless battles in their homeland, fighting hopelessness and fear and no job prospects even if they are granted sanctuary.

In a feature, Germany's state broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) said they are worried about their status, as the New Democracy government is trying to lock down the borders to keep out more, using drones for surveillance and stepping up patrols in the Aegean near Turkey's coast.

One of them, Nemat Tajik, 43, had just been transferred to the Alexandria Refugee camp near the port city of Thessaloniki in Greece, when he heard that the Taliban had regained power in Afghanistan. "I felt powerless. It was like watching my mother being killed in front of my eyes," he told DW.

He got out as fast as he could after an encounter with the kind of rule the Taliban had brought before it was repelled in 2001 during the US' attempt to strike at terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in America.

"The Governor of my region, who was associated with the Taliban, told me that I could continue living and working there if he could marry my 14-year old daughter. I instantly packed my bags and fled with my family. I knew if I didn't agree they would kill me and my family," he told DW.

They followed a familiar and sad trail that others before them had taken, the long trek through Iran and into Turkey, which allows human traffickers to keep operating during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union which closed its borders to them, dumping the problem largely on Greece.

NO WHERE TO GO

Overwhelmed with the numbers, Greece can't keep up with the asylum requests and complained of getting little help from the EU – whose last two migration chiefs were Greek politicians.

Tajik is at the Vathy camp on the island of Samos, within sight and spitting distance of Turkey's coast, one of five Greek islands to which traffickers keep sending refugees and migrants, although in smaller numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Over the past few months, many of my friends from Afghanistan received negative decisions on their asylum applications. I myself received two rejections so far at the Vathy camp. I have appealed and have now been transferred to a new camp with the hope of getting my application accepted," said Tajik.

"Now more than ever, Europe needs to think about refugees from Afghanistan and not send us back. We did not escape, we were forced to flee," he said.

According to a recent report by the UN Refugee Agency, around 45.3 percent of refugees who entered Greece by sea in June 2021, were from Afghanistan, the news feature also added.

But their fate is even more uncertain now that the New Democracy government declared Turkey a safe country for them to go back to, although Turkey isn't taking back in any numbers those denied asylum as the EU deal stipulated.

Michael Kientzlethe, Director of Mobile Info Team which helps refugees process asylum applications, said those rejected were victims of that decision.

"I don't think the recent events in Afghanistan have affected asylum application rejections. What has been happening since June, is that if an Afghan refugee cannot prove why Turkey is unsafe for them, their request for asylum in Greece is rejected. They have the option to appeal but the process is long and laborious," he said.

Simone Innico, Communications and Advocacy Coordinator of Samos Volunteers, which provides psycho-social support to refugees at the Vathy camp in Samos, said more Afghans are asking for help.

"They're scared and worried for their family and friends back home. Some of them have been stranded on the island for a long time, waiting for their applications to be processed and are scared of being sent back under the current circumstances,” she said.

If sent back to Turkey – uncertain whether they would be allowed – they'd have to stay there or else go back to Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban.

“Every time someone jokes about being sent back to Afghanistan or even Turkey, I shiver. Even my daughter starts crying if I talk to her about going back. We had a tough time there. But for the sake of my family, I hide all my worries behind a smile,” said Tajik.

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