Thirty young men were deported to Kabul on June 6, on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul. The deportation comes as Afghanistan is again wracked by violence. Less than a week ago, a bomb in the Afghan capital killed around 150 civilians and injured 500 more. Two days later, on June 2, the police opened fire on a demonstration, killing seven. Another three explosions then cost the lives of at least 22 people. Despite this, the men were being deported – by Norway, Sweden and Turkey.
Those being deported from Turkey were being sent back as part of the EU-Turkey deal, which sees Turkey getting paid to maintain Europe’s frontiers. The men are deported as undocumented migrants, with no chance of having an asylum claim examined, let alone granted. Those being deported from Scandinavia may well have had their claims examined and rejected, though even those who have claims accepted are told Kabul remains safe. One of the officials from Norway told me that he had faith in his system. But given the volatility of the situation, such assertions need to be re-examined. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for example, responded to the attacks by suspending all deportations from Germany.
Over the last five months, I have witnessed this process on each of the flights I have taken from Istanbul to Kabul, noting each time the apparent indifference of European escorts and Turkish officials. But this latest flight was particularly shocking given what has just happened.
As I spoke to the young men while boarding, and asked why, in the light of the shocking recent events, the deportations were going ahead, the Turkish police threatened to arrest me. Meanwhile, the Scandinavian escorts pushed me away physically, telling me to leave. But I had a ticket for the same flight.
On the tarmac, the young men were taken off the buses and boarded first. Job accomplished, the Turkish officials engaged in horseplay with each other and took selfies. My seat was at the back of the plane, where some of the young Afghans were seated between their escorts (others were just accompanied to the plane). Taking my seat, I asked the young men in Dari – a Persian language spoken in Afghanistan – whether they had anyone in Kabul. A handful said yes; the others shook their heads.
I asked the escorts, a group of around 15 men and one woman, since Kabul was considered safe, if they would be willing to join me for a drink or dinner on arrival. My invitation was met with silence. Shortly afterwards, the stewardesses came to tell me that they had found a nicer seat for me near the front of the plane. I refused politely and they insisted gently, explaining that it was all police at the back of the plane and they would be noisy.