The impasse of EU migration leaves many refugees out in the cold

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BRUSSELS (AP) – Some refugees and asylum seekers in Brussels spent months between Vjal il Palazzi and the Little Castle – literally.

Unfortunately, at the end of their terrifying flight halfway around the world, neither dream comes true. It is an eternal nightmare.

Petit Chateau, which means small castle, is a government reception center that often does anything but welcome arrivals. The Rue des Palais – the street of the palaces – has the worst squat in the city, where the smell of urine and the prevalence of scurvy have become a symbol of the failure of the Union’s migration policy European.

You are just 2 1/2 miles (four kilometers) from the sleek Europa building, where EU leaders will hold a two-day summit starting Thursday to deal with migration issues facing the 27 member states. for more than a year fret ten years.

Shinwari, an Afghan army captain who has long helped western powers oust the Taliban, now lives in a makeshift tent camp just across the canal from Petit Chateau.

It is a place as desolate as it is hopeless.

“It is very cold. Some boys have different illnesses and many of us suffer from depression because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” revealed the 31-year-old man, who left his wife and four children behind, confident that the Taliban forces would take the -power in August. 2021 took over, soldiers like him who worked with NATO countries kill.

“They look for houses. His life no one was safe,” said Shinwari. “Once I said to my family, ‘Your son took refuge in an infidel land.'”

Even now, far from home, he is too afraid to be identified beyond his name and even the vaguest military details. He does not want his face to be seen in photos or videos for fear of the Taliban harming his family.

To make matters worse, he meets with a largely indifferent, sometimes even hostile, reception in the prosperous EU.

“Unfortunately, no one can hear our voices,” he said from his tent, surrounded by half a dozen former Afghan military personnel.

Instead, the vocabulary of EU leaders ahead of the summit is much more about “strengthening external borders,” “border fencing,” and “return procedures” than making life easier for people like Shinwari immediately.

And with 330,000 unauthorized attempts to enter the EU last year – a six-year record – you don’t win many elections on the continent these days by projecting a warm embrace on refugees.

Many Afghans also look with envy at the swift action taken by the EU after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 to give Ukrainians temporary protection such as residency rights, access to the work, medical assistance and social assistance – things they have all largely outgrown. .

“The problem of Afghans and Ukrainians is the same, but they are not treated the same,” Shinwari said. “When the Ukrainians come here, they are provided with all the facilities… on the first day of their arrival, but we Afghans who left our country because of security threats do not get anything.

“It’s a surprise because human rights are not the same for everyone and this upsets us and makes us feel disappointed and neglected.”

EU leaders have already said that a full breakthrough on their migration policy will not come before bloc-wide elections in June 2024.

Shinwari said he was lucky enough to break through the EU’s reinforced borders to exercise his right to asylum after an eight-month journey through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia and finally Belgium. This included beatings, arrests and escapes in Iran, as well as starvation and fear along much of the trail.

Shinwari made Europe come alive, “but now that I’m here I’m homeless like a nomad” with a thin blue tent to ward off Belgium’s many rainstorms, he said.

Other ex-Afghan soldiers moved to Rue des Palais, where their stories of trauma, depression, drugs and violence were equally harrowing.

“The situation here is not good. When the Red Cross brings food, we have food, but when it doesn’t, many have nothing,” said Roz Amin Khan, who fled Laghman province two months ago to reach Belgium.

Since arriving four months ago, Shinwari said he had an interview with the asylum authorities and has been waiting ever since.

The lack of aid for most refugees is driving NGOs and volunteers to despair.

“The legal framework and the situation on the ground are worlds apart,” said Clement Valentin, Legal Advocacy Officer at the CIRE Refugee Foundation. “There is this gap and it is difficult to understand – for me and for the NGOs.

“But I can’t even begin to understand how difficult it must be for the Afghans here in Belgium or other European nations to understand this.”

Legal hunting is not limited to Belgium. The EU asylum agency said in its latest trend report from November 2022 that “the gap between applications and decisions has reached its widest extent since 2015” and continues to grow. In total, more than 920,000 cases are still pending, which corresponds to an annual increase of 14%.

When Shinwari arrived, the bureaucratic backlog at the Petit Chateau was so great that asylum seekers sometimes had to wait for days in the rain and cold just to get through the front door. The citizens who lived nearby brought food and set up stoves because the government failed to act.

Even though the situation has improved, the physical and psychological scars are easy to see, said Michel Genet, director of Doctors of the World Belgium.

“People have been through a lot of trauma and a very difficult situation and they expect to come here and be taken care of,” Genet said.

During many sleepless nights in the freezing cold, with the hum of passing cars in the background, Shinwari’s mind wanders back to home.

“Sometimes I think about the future and how long I will have to live on the streets,” he said. “My head is surrounded by problems. I think about the safety of my family and my future.”


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Raf Casert and Ahmad Seir, The Associated Press


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