KABUL: An elderly Afghan man with a bearded, tired face gazes from the TV screen and says: “My son wouldn’t listen to me. He borrowed money to pay for his death.”
The advert is part of a campaign run by Afghanistan’s Refugee Ministry to dissuade young men from using people smugglers to flee the country in search of a better life. Using real stories, the drive aims to highlight how traffickers and treacherous journeys pose a deadly threat to migrants who often face deportation even if they reach their destination.
The clip shows the man, from the marginalised Hazara ethnic group, sitting in his shoe-repair stall remembering his son who tried to reach Australia.
Many Afghans are looking for an escape as more than a decade of international intervention winds down and fears grow that Islamists or violent warlords will return to power.
Ambitious young men are needed to help the country to develop, but the exodus has picked up pace as uncertainty deepens, Nato-led troops pull out in 2014 and aid money dries up.
Afghans made 36,600 asylum claims in industrialised countries last year, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, up from 36,200 in 2011. Afghans often choose Australia, Sweden, Germany or Norway, but face a tough battle even if they complete overland journeys and sea passages in rickety smugglers’ boats.
In Australia, the new government came to power in September vowing to use its navy to tow the boats back to their place of origin and its embassy in Kabul issues warnings that migrants are not welcome. Those who reach Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, are processed and settled in underdeveloped Papua New Guinea.
“Given the past experience of civil war and the Taliban rule, many Afghans feel pressured to flee the country at any cost,” ministry spokesman Islamudin Jurat said.
“Our campaign aims at reversing the belief that leaving through illegal channels and putting your fate in the hands of traffickers carries little risk.
“We have seen too many Afghan lives lost while trying to reach Europe and Australia, but traffickers see a golden opportunity to lure stressed Afghans into paying thousands of dollars.”
“I am sure I would be happy and prosperous” said Saber Rezayee, 20, an unemployed man from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sahrif who has made two failed attempts to reach Europe.
“I prefer to go and die on the way than to stay here and be slaughtered by the Taliban, or blown up by bombs,” he said, recalling how he was deported from Iran and Turkey as he tried to get to Sweden where he has relatives.
Migrants pay $20,000 to smugglers who run routes out of Afghanistan using road transport or enable people to board flights with illegally obtained visas. Many heading to Australia fly first to Malaysia, then take one sea trip to Indonesia and another on overcrowded fishing boats to Christmas Island.
Australia recorded two migrants who went overland to Pakistan, and flew to Indonesia via Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore, before making the final leg of the journey by boat. More than 600 people, including refugees from other countries such as Sri Lanka, are thought to have died making the sea journey to Christmas Island since 2006.
“They know the dangers and that they may be deported back but it is a good business,” one smuggler said. “We facilitate their escape. We take them mostly to Turkey, where some others will then take them to Europe and Australia.”
Authorities says many Afghan migrants have little idea of what they face when they pay smugglers and set off into the unknown.
“Nobody can stop people wanting to move, but we want them to make a decision based on well-informed knowledge and correct information,” an official said.
Fahim, a 36-year-old former government employee who declined to give his full name, said he was not put off by one failed effort to get to Germany via Tajikistan and Russia. “I can’t imagine living in Afghanistan after 2014. I have received threats from people who think me and my wife are too liberal to be good Muslims. I will sell my house soon and leave this country at any cost.” AFP