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Entries in Afghanistan (2)

Tuesday
Oct182011

Despair of the asylum seeker

This story is a rare glimpse into the life of an asylum seeker living in Belgium. With much of the world war-torn and desolate, a rare few brave families risk the unknown in search of a better life, and a fraction of a fraction arrive in Belgium. Once in Belgium the families are safe from immediate persecution, and a few are granted refugee status, premitting them to stay indefinately and integrate into society. Far more, however are sans papiers - those waiting for judgement or those without what is considered adequate written proof of persecution but who come from a region unstable enough that they cannot be forced to leave. 

 

Legally, the Belgium government is to provide at least housing for asylum seekers, in practice the government has not built any where near enough places. Over and over again, homeless asylum seekers will take a case to the courts and judges will levy fines on the government for not meeting its legal obligations - and the government will just pay the fines rather than increase housing. Without "papers" the refugees cannot find a job and support themselves, they legally have no choice but to be sleeping on the street, begging and eating in soup kitchens. Even for those few who are granted papers life is no picnic, I remember waiting behind an Afghan man, probably in his late 40s, at the Leuven Town Hall, who was seeking permission to work. Over and over again he was denied permission, because his asylum papers said he was born 1/1/2000. He tried to explain that this was the default date because he didn't have a birth certificate (being born in a small Afghan village), they simply shut him down and said that they could not give a work permit to an 11 year old, and if he wanted to change it he would need to provide a valid birth certificate.

 To be sans papiers is to be left in limbo, to have no means to better yourself and no way to regain the dignity of self-sufficiency. It benefits nobody to leave people sitting unemployed in a cramped flat, sleeping out in an abandoned building intermittently raided by police, or freezing at night in an underpass. It certainly harms the most vulnerable members of our society. So who is to blame for this callus disregard for human dignity? Sure, you could blame the bureaucrats who make decisions, but they are only operating under the law. You could blame the politicians who make the laws, but with a thousand pressures on the political class the one issue they can safely ignore is the one which harms non-voters. You could blame the media, for ignoring the issue, but the media panders to populism and knows a dead issue when it sees one. No, ultimately we need to blame the voters, the people who could easily apply pressure for change, but who simply do not care enough about the plight of others to demand a minimum level of human dignity be granted to those who need it the most. 

Still, it could be worse. Mahboub and Rama and their two young children could have landed in Australia. They would have then been thrown straight into a prison (what other name can you call a "detention centre" set in the middle of the desert and surrounded by barbed wire?) and left to rot indefinately. Vilified by the Australian people as "boat people" and "que jumpers", asylum seekers have been condemned to life behind bars for up to seven years, before being deported or given papers. Australian governments of the right and left cite "processing requirements", but the real cause is clear - the racism of the Australian voter. While the idea of being stranded without rights on the streets of Brussels fills me with despair, living behind bars for the best part of a decade due to the "crime" of fleeing persecution is beyond my imagination.

 

Wednesday
Mar101999

Women’s rights in Afghanistan?

The Taleban emerged as a dominant power in Afghanistan in 1994. Their stated role was to impose their strict interpretation of Islamic Law upon Afghanistan, including the protection of the virtue of women. The Taleban now control 80% of Afghanistan, and have inflicted multiple human rights violations upon its citizens.

The new laws governing women’s behaviour are primitive and unjust. Women must be covered from head to foot (there is a strict dress code), women are not permitted to leave their homes without a male relative, they must not talk to unrelated men, and they are not allowed to work, or even be able to read and write. The ban on girls being educated has dropped literacy rate in young females down to 4%. Access to women’s health care has deteriorated, with many clinics and health care schemes closed down and home visits by midwives forbidden. Women who disobey any of these laws are dealt with strictly, without fair trials, and often with immediate beatings, rapes or murders on the street by Taleban soldiers. The following statement was taken from a  women who is one of many victims of the Taleban:

“They shot my father right in front of me. They came to our house and told him they had orders to kill him because he allowed me to go to school. Then they killed him. I cannot describe what they did to me after killing my father.....”

It isn’t only women who are unjustly treated by this government. Children are also suffering, and the literacy rate is dropping in boys as well as girls, since the 40% of teachers who are female are not allowed to work in schools. Not only quality of life, but life itself is being reduced for these children. Disruption to food supplies, health services, water systems and sanitation have caused four million deaths in young children since the Taleban came into power. 268 000 children under five die each year from easily treatable diseases such as diarrhoea alone.

Added to these tremendous violations is the return of barbaric punishment without fair trial. Adultery gives stoning, theft gives amputation, drinking alcohol gives flogging, and men who commit sodomy are crushed under a wall. When this is added to the suppression of the media, it is little wonder that people fleeing Afghanistan make up the largest single refugee group in the world.