If you go down to the wood today. Hossein, 17, square Villemin, Paris, October 2008 © Jérémie Souteyrat

The Afghan odyssey

Thousands of Afghan boys are making their way alone across Europe, a trend that has accelerated in the past two years as conditions for Afghan refugees become more difficult in countries like Iran and Pakistan. Although some are as young as 12, most are teenagers seeking an education and a future that is not possible in their own country, which is still struggling with poverty and violence eight years after the end of Taliban rule.

Published on 2 September 2009 at 13:47
If you go down to the wood today. Hossein, 17, square Villemin, Paris, October 2008 © Jérémie Souteyrat

“In Italy, 24 Afghan teenagers were discovered sleeping in a sewer in Rome this spring, and last year two adolescents died in Italian ports — one under a semitrailer in Venice and another inside a shipping container in Ancona,” reports Caroline Brothers in the International Herald Tribune. While in Paris this year, Afghans for the first time outnumber sub-Saharan Africans as the biggest group of unaccompanied foreign minors to request admission to child protection services. “Afghanistan is hemorrhaging its youth into Europe,” said Pierre Henry, director ofFrance Terre d’Asile, an organization that works on asylum affairs.

The European Union does not keep statistics on the number of foreign children who wander Europe without their families, and the records of aid groups and government agencies vary greatly. But Blanche Tax, a senior policy officer at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Brussels, says that last year 3,090 Afghan minors requested asylum in Austria, Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany — the European Union countries where their numbers rose the most sharply — more than double the 1,489 requests in those countries in 2007. Often, in Greece and Turkey, they are exploited as under-age labor and subject to beatings by the police, who also, as in Patras, Greece, go to lengths to destroy their squatter settlements.

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Brussels for “fair share” immigration

On 2 September the European Commission is submitting proposals to reinforce the EU’s common immigration policy, reportsTrouw. The Dutch daily reminds us that, for the time being, “immigration policy is up to the member states, which are reluctant to yield any power to Brussels in this domain.” The Commission wants to see member states take in a fairer share of immigrants, “seeing as Spain, Italy, Greece and Malta […] – the points of entry for most immigrants nowadays – are carrying most of the weight”. What is more, adds Trouw, the Commission finds that “the EU’s image is marred by its letting in only a limited number of people from war-torn and poverty-stricken regions”. The Commission intends to propose measures to “discourage immigrants, especially Africans, from resorting to human trafficking and trying to reach Europe on perilous little boats”. It argues that the only way to do that would be to admit more immigrants. Hence the proposed creation of a new institution: the European Asylum Support Office, which is to keep track every year of each country’s available capacity to take in refugees.

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