- I received this from a refugee rights activist working in Belgrade who got in touch to say that all groups of Afghan refugees who had come in contact with Iranian border guards were met with serious violence, including being shot at and beaten. Here Yasmin Ali describes some of the heart wrenching stories:
“These people…the Afghans are not real refugees,” said a journalist. The parks near the main bus station in Belgrade are constantly visited by journalists, who want to talk to the refugees gathered there, waiting to move on. I vaguely recalled having previously met the man, who had strolled up to me.
“Excuse me?” my immediate reaction was one of confusion. What did he mean? Why were they not ‘real ’? Were they just an illusion?
“They just want to move to Europe because the Turkish border is open. They have no passports. They come with smugglers. They pay them a lot of money. There is no war in Afghanistan,” he insisted.
Since 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, there has been nothing but war in Afghanistan.
“You are quite mistaken. There is a war in Afghanistan,” I could not say anything more. It was obviously futile to argue with a ‘journalist’ who was oblivious to the situation in Afghanistan.
I remembered the Afghan from Kabul, who was previously employed at the US embassy.
“I had a good salary. But in Afghanistan you don’t know if you are going to be alive the next minute. It is very stressful. I know life and death is ordained by Allah but it is the constant worrying that I find difficult to handle. I have nobody in Afghanistan. My parents are dead and my only sister lives in Sweden. She wants me to join her.”
It is mostly young Afghan boys and men, on average from 15 to 23 years of age, who are forced to flee.
“We have no choice. The Taliban want to recruit us. If we refuse they kill us. If we dare to work for the Afghan government or army the Taliban treat us as traitors and hunt us down and kill us.”
“I used to work as an assistant for a man who drove NATO supply trucks. I was kidnapped by the Taliban and imprisoned with a few other boys for 10 days. They tortured us. We managed to escape.”
“We were refugees in Pakistan. But Pakistani police keeps arresting Afghans and deports them back to Afghanistan.”
“We are Hazara people. We are from Baluchistan, in Pakistan. Lashkar-e-Jhangavi (terrorist group) is hunting us down. They enter shops and buses. They check ID cards. If anyone is Hazara they are shot on the spot.”
“We are not allowed to leave our village in Afghanistan. The Taliban don’t let us.”
“I and my brothers were warned not to go to school. The Taliban said if you go to school you will be killed. Then they attacked the school. My best friend was killed in the attack. The rest of my friends decided to leave the country.”
“We sold whatever we had to set out on this journey. We can’t go back.”
“I have made a very long and hard journey. I deserve to reach a safe place.”
The stories are similar. The journey is very hard and very dangerous.
In over a 1000 interviews conducted with Afghan refugees since 10 August 2015 by the Asylum Info Center in Belgrade, every group reported that the Iranian border was the most dangerous to cross.
“The Iranian border police are the worst. They just open fire at everyone. They shoot at women and children in broad daylight,” said one man who showed me pictures that he had on his phone, of women and children huddling behind rocks to avoid the bullets.
“There is a ‘shoot order’ at the Iranian border. Those who get caught are often beaten viciously. One man in our group was beaten to death.”
“Two Pakistani men in our group were shot to death.”
“Three men in our group died from thirst. They had not had any water for a couple of days. In Iran they sell water to us and it is so expensive that we could not afford to buy any.”
The Bulgarians are next on the list.
“They hunt us in the forest with helicopters. The police beat people and take away all their money, cell phones and even food and water.”
“We were kept in a detention center for nearly 10 days. We were given a handful of food once a day. Sick people were denied medical care.”
“The Bulgarian police set dogs on people. I barely managed to avoid being bitten.”
“The Bulgarian police behave like criminals.”
There is a list of the most dangerous countries in the world. It includes Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Similarly there is a list of safe countries.
The EU is a zone of peace and prosperity which guarantees human rights. It is a zone with strictly guarded borders which are now closing down to refugees one by one. The Hungarians have built a wall on their border with Serbia and are in the process of doing so on the border with Croatia. The Croatians will probably close their border soon. Right wing parties are gathering support and the official reaction to the ‘refugee crisis’ is one of quite uncalled for hysteria.
At a seminar organized by the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, a lawyer from the Danish Refugee Council explained that the idea that Europe is going to be overwhelmed with an unmanageable number of refugees is simply a false picture of the situation. Trying to illustrate the actual situation, as reflected by statistics thus far he said, “We could make an analogy. Let us say there is an island inhabited by 1000 people. They live in perfect conditions. Then two people swim up to the shore of this island and say, “We are in trouble. Can we live with you?” Of course, there are enough resources to accommodate them without any problem.”
There are also those who argue that Syrians coming to Europe are not fleeing from immediate violence. They are simply not satisfied with conditions in Turkey. So, strictly speaking they are not real refugees.
When does a person become a ‘real refugee’? When does it become permissible for a person to strive to find a safe place to live a decent life? In fact, when does a person become ‘real’?
As my Syrian colleague says, “I don’t like the word refugee.”
We are indeed far from creating an ideal world without borders, but at least to keep up a semblance of civilization, countries could try to follow the law and acknowledge that people fleeing from the most dangerous places in the world are real, their lives do matter, at least enough to deserve the dignity of due process.
- If you want to send donations for refugees to Belgrade, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Most needed items are sneaker shoes for men, the most looked for sizes (European) are: 41,42,43 for men and 38, 39, 40 for women. People also ask for socks, gloves and backpacks. (There is a regulation against sending donations of secondhand shoes into Serbia, although for some reason locals are allowed to donate used shoes so shoes must be new.)