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Wandering Afghan Children

The end of the Dubs amendment is more bad news for Afghanistan’s wandering children, no longer welcome anywhere. Over 50,000 unaccompanied Afghan children sought asylum in Europe in 2015-16, although only 806 claimed asylum here in 12 months to June, making it hard to believe that Dubs has been the major driver the Home Secretary claims. It’s not as though they were really offered a future in the UK. Since 2007 we have deported over 2000 on reaching 18 – many after years in UK schools. We don’t know what becomes of them.

Nobody wants Afghan refugees. Pakistan, hosting well over a million, is intimidating them into leaving. Europe deports them on special charters: at the Brussels Conference last October, Europe persuaded Afghanistan to accept all it returned, with pledges of aid which many reported appeared conditional on cooperation. According to human rights groups, some European countries justify this position by suggesting Afghanistan is now safe. Yet war continues there: over 11,000 civilians were killed or injured in 2015, more than quarter of them children, two thirds by anti-government groups like the Taliban, who control about a third of the country, more than at any time since 2001. The UN say that armed groups on all sides recruit boys from the age of 13, some for suicide attacks or to fight in Syria: nearly half of the population is under 14. Asylum seekers alleging torture describe abduction and violence by those they are not perceived to support, on both sides. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission confirm that torture is common practice in government facilities for those suspected of insurgent sympathies, and is committed with impunity, recording 287 cases in government detention in 2015. Reports suggest the Taliban are crueller.

Most unaccompanied Afghan child refugees have seen violence, many the murder of a household member. Save the Children say that many sent home at 18 are treated with suspicion after their years in the west. There are reports of Shia Hazaras being abducted and tortured by the Taliban on the roads out of Kabul because they are returnees.

Afghanistan will be reviewed by the UN Committee Against Torture in April for the first time since 1992, but the advance submissions are not encouraging, the UN suggesting that lack of capacity and the existence of higher priorities such as security have taken priority over human rights. Afghanistan’s problems are so overwhelming that the rights of teenage boys lie at the bottom of a horrible heap. It’s unsurprising that so many flee for Europe – not the pull of Dubs, but the push of increasing danger – yet Europe’s sympathy seems to have run out. Article 14 of the Declaration of Human Rights commits countries not to return anyone seeking asylum to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. If UNCAT’s review exposes a dark picture, can Europe’s line still be justified?

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