British Cash Won't Tempt Refugees

Few Afghan refugees living in Britain are likely to be lured into returning to their country.

British Cash Won't Tempt Refugees

Few Afghan refugees living in Britain are likely to be lured into returning to their country.

Thursday, 3 March, 2005

The British government’s lure of a generous financial handout is not expected to tempt many Afghan refugees sheltering in the United Kingdom into returning home.

Refugees - or asylum seekers as they are known in the UK - who leave of their own accord, rather than being deported, will qualify for the grants under a new “voluntary assisted returns” package.

The scheme, which is due to start shortly, follows a ruling that Afghanistan is safe enough to return to for the first time in seven years, following the fall of the Taleban regime.

However, Afghans with relatives in Britain do not think there will be a very enthusiastic response to the financial inducements, which amount to several thousand dollars per family. The uncertain security situation in the country, low wages and poor prospects are likely to persuade the refugees to stay put.

Ibrahim Khel’s brother Ismail was a doctor in Afghanistan before fleeing to the UK. He now lives in the northern English town of Newcastle, and although his refugee application has not yet been accepted, he is already earning 800 dollars a month from his two jobs - one in a restaurant, the other driving taxis.

“The Afghan security situation is not yet stable. If the refugees return from European countries, it is possible that they will be harassed by armed men in the provinces,” said Ibrahim, explaining why his brother will not be coming back.

The scheme is expected to attract 1,000 applicants and the British home office has set aside 800,000 pounds sterling - 1.2 million dollars - to fund it. Single people will get 900 dollars while families can claim up to 3,800 dollars during the six-month trial.

The money - to be paid after the applicants have left the country - will be on top of the cost of flights. It is aimed at those who are awaiting asylum decisions, appealing them or who have been granted exceptional leave to remain.

Hameedi, an Afghan refugee living in England’s second biggest city, Birmingham, is currently visiting Kabul. He is one of the lucky few holding a ten-year UK visa. “I sold my house to raise the 10,000 dollars I needed to reach Britain. I don’t want to come back without enough money to guarantee a life for my family,” he told IWPR.

Mohammad Aarash works in the Afghan foreign office. His brother Fayaz and his wife and two children are currently living as refugees in London’s Kingsbury area.

Fayaz has spent 14 years outside his homeland - in Pakistan, Russia and finally in Britain. While he has told his brother that he is tired of living in exile, he has no intention of returning. “He doesn’t want to come back to Afghanistan and its undeveloped school system, as his children are getting a good education in Britain,” said Aarash.

Many Afghans rely on remittances from relatives living as refugees overseas.

One worker at the ministry of martyrs and refugees in Kabul, who did not want to be named, said, “My uncle sends 350 dollars every month to us and to some other of our relatives. He lives with his wife and two children in an area of London. They paid 20,000 dollars to get there and we don’t want him to come back, because our family relies on the money he sends.”

In addition to the UK scheme, there are other initiatives underway to help refugees return home. The International Organisation for Migration, IOM, in Kabul has a programme designed to help highly educated and professional Afghans come back.

The IOM has received nearly 6,000 applications from different parts of the world, but only 400 refugees have been repatriated under the Return of Qualified Afghans, RQA, programme - and only five from the UK.

“The most important reasons why they don’t want to come back are the low salaries and the security conditions in the country,” said Ahmed Dizdarvic, a programme officer with IOM in Kabul.

“However, many educated and professional Afghans have returned and jobs are being sought for them according to their qualifications through the RQA programme. IOM is paying some money to them to help them get by in the meantime.”

The migration of Afghans started soon after the 1979 Soviet invasion, increasing during the 1992-96 civil war and the Taleban’s rise to power.

Afghanistan now has the world’s highest refugee population - more than three million people have left, and nearly a million are currently displaced inside the country.

Abdul Wali is a Kabul-based freelance reporter.

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