Mental health awareness week 2019: The prevalence in refugees and asylum seekers
Written by Rosanna Gillespie, volunteer at ACAA…
Written by Rosanna Gillespie, volunteer at ACAA
Last week the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA) travelled to Germany’s capital, Berlin, to host our conference on the future of Afghanistan and Afghan refugees. We were thrilled to bring together a diverse group of professionals, academics, activists and members of the Afghan diaspora to engage in quality dialogue and debate. The day began with an introduction and welcome from the ACAA Founder and Director, Dr Nasimi, and was followed by two panel discussions: ‘Afghanistan to Germany’, and ‘Supporting Youth and the Future’. We were incredibly grateful to Sanda Hubana, a Doctoral Fellow at the Department for European Ethnology of the Humbolt-University in Berlin, for moderating the event.
Panel One – ‘From Afghanistan to Germany’
Dr Angela Stanzel – A South Asian specialist, Angela is currently China Analysis Editor and a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Dr. Nader Talebi – Researcher and Guest Lecturer at the department of ‘Integration research and sociology policy’ at BIM (an organisation for migration in Berlin.
Valentin Feneberg – An expert in return policy and reintegration, Valentine currently works as a research assistance at the German Centre for Integration and Migration Research (DeZIM).
The discussion was structured to reflect a circular migration narrative, starting with the current situation in Afghanistan, followed by motivations for leaving, and concluding with a discussion on return migration policy. Dr Stanzel began by outlining the current situation in Afghanistan. She explained how, despite an army of c. 60,000 and interventions from over 39 countries, insecurity has increased in recent years. This is particularly evident in the Taliban’s have terrorisation of the Afghan population during this year’s elections. Since the Taliban achieves over 80% of it’s funding from opium cultivation, Stanzel proposed that initiatives be developed to encourage farmers to grow alternative crops.
Dr Talebi then addressed the question of ‘who decides to migrate and why?’ He discussed this in relation to his research with Afghan refugees in Iran. Talebi is currently part of a research project that seeks to create a framework for better understanding motivations for migrating. As such, he highlighted how all migratory experiences are different and people are motivated by different reasons. He then went on to discuss ‘integration’ in the German setting, arguing that it is a ‘two-way’ process in which the host community must also adapt in order to cultivate an inclusive environment. Finally, he called out the hypocrisy of the German government in stating how Afghanistan is safe for Afghans to return to, but not safe for German citizens to visit.
Valentine Feneberg spoke about returns policy, arguing the concept of ‘voluntary’ return is arbitrary. Rather than being voluntary, deportations are based on agreements made between countries of origin and host countries. Similarly, asylum cases are decided based on country of origin and the ability of one’s lawyer rather than genuine need. Finally, he challenged the general assumption that without a returns policy, the concept of asylum would be void; why must the process of seeking asylum ultimately conclude with a process of return migration?
The panellist presentations were ensued by a series of questions and answers from the audience. The discussion session was very interactive, and it was great to see so many members of the audience getting involved. There was a discussion about Afghans who ‘fall through the gap’ in the asylum process, effectively becoming citizens of nowhere. For example, Afghans claiming asylum in Germany are often returned to Afghanistan when they have in fact spent most of their lives living as refugees in Iran. This type of process was described as an ‘asylum lottery’. One audience member, a lawyer from a refuge background, argued that this unfair system is exacerbated by those who benefit from the broken system, including incompetent host country lawyers who neglect to inform Afghans of their rights. She passionately explained how, in her experience, most Afghans do not know their rights, stating that ‘your rights are never given to you as a gift’. Finally, Valentine was asked to describe a ‘good return policy’. He suggested that a good starting point would be to unpack the nationalist discourse that is over-used and exploited when it comes to asylum policy.
Panel 2 – ‘Supporting Youth and the Future’
Rabia Nasimi – The ACAA’s Rabia Nasimi, also a PhD student at Cambridge
Qayce Alamdar – A refugee activist living in Germany
Rabia began her discussion by asking the question: What can we do to support Refugees? She stated that there are many people from Afghanistan in the diaspora who have experienced the refugee journey and can become good advocates and role models for a new generation of refugees. She touched on how she is doing this whilst being a PhD student. Then, she went on to discuss her own experience of integration in the UK, specifically touching on the importance of having a dual identity and not feeling the need to let go of one’s culture, religion and traditions. As a fluent English and Farsi speaker she felt that her connections with Afghanistan were kept strong, both socially and politically. Finally, she addressed the importance of trusting and accepting each other, highlighting that there are many skilled people amongst the diaspora that should be acknowledged so that we can be a cohesive and strong community.
Qayce then addressed specific concerns around life in refugee camps in Germany. An important point he raised was the distance from the camp to the nearest city being as long as 3 hours, and usually costing around €6 to travel daily, hindering the integration process of refugees as they do not have much contact with the local people.
Concluding thoughts on the conference
Overall, the conference provided an inclusive, international space in which to openly discuss the future of Afghanistan and the situation of Afghan refugees throughout the world. The event was unique in that the audience was mostly made up of Afghans. As such, the discussions were conducted in both Farsi and English. In many conferences, academic and professional, there is a danger that those effected by policies and debates are excluded from the discussion, particularly those from marginalised groups, such as refugees. In contrast, the discussions were led and informed by Afghans themselves, making this an extremely valuable and special event.