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‘No Justice, No Equality:’ the Corruption that Drives Afghans Overseas

A major international conference on Afghanistan last week addressed the economic reasons Afghans flee to Europe. In the second part of “Afghans on the Migration Trail,” migration specialist Nassim Majidi tackles the corruption pushing Afghan professionals to leave.

Written by Nassim Majidi Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Afghanistan daily life
An Afghan man stands on Nadir Khan Hill overlooking Kabul, Sept. 26, 2016. AP/Rahmat Gul

Read the first part of “Afghans on the Migration Trail” here.

Qasem, a professional with a university degree, had many reasons to leave Afghanistan, but it was his lack of personal and financial security that ultimately pushed him to go.

“It was my own decision to leave the country due to high corruption,” says the 28-year-old, who is now living in Sweden. “There was no justice. There was no equality.”

One of hidden aims of the recent Brussels Conference on Afghanistan was to address Afghan migration to Europe. For the European Union and the government of Afghanistan, the assumption is that creating jobs will address the push factors behind migration. Europe also announced a new “reintegration package” last week, in an agreement on returning migrants to Afghanistan.

While security and jobs rank high among the reasons why people leave Afghanistan, corruption, discrimination and nepotism are the underlying causes of the situation. Many young Afghan men who are convinced that their futures are bleak, and that their government is not capable of improving, take matters in their own hands. For many, this means leaving the country and eventually the region.

Qasem – like many men we interviewed during our study interviewing Afghan migrants at various stages of their journey – continues to believe he made the right decision.

Qasem’s last job in Afghanistan was a junior-level position at the Anti-Corruption High Office. He wanted to be part of creating the changes that many youth hoped for in Afghanistan, but soon realized his own role was limited. Changes had to take place at a much higher level, he says.

“I worried about my job every time a new director or senior manager was assigned to our office, because they could fire me and replace me with one of their relatives,” he says, describing the nepotism that is prevalent in both the public and private sector throughout Afghanistan.

Qasem’s brother received a scholarship and left for Russia, but Qasem was not as fortunate. With no legal options to migrate, Qasem left with the help of a smuggler.

The financial burdens of most Afghan men do not end upon arriving in Europe. Migrants who entered the E.U. via irregular means often do not have documents or work permits, and their asylum claims can take years to process.

While many men we interviewed had left family and loved ones behind, they said that, at the very least, they experience something in the E.U. that they do not have at home – “the rule of law.”

Words and terms matter. When Afghans interviewed in Europe and back in Afghanistan speak about the “rule of law,” they are using vernacular that the international community has encouraged in the country. The U.S. government’s aid agency, USAID, has centered an important part of its “democracy and governance” work on rule of law and “just and fair” systems that serve the people. It appears the political language of 14 years of U.S.- and NATO-led intervention has trickled down into more generalized expectations from citizens.

We found that many Afghans know what the phrase “rule of law” means – and what the lack of it entails. Analysts at Transparency International have described the impact of corruption on peace, while Afghans themselves describe the direct impact on their own lives. In their experience, corruption threatens the pursuit of a decent life.

For many of the Afghans we interviewed, the lack of a “rule of law” was based on the arbitrary exercise of power that affects their access to documentation and, ultimately, jobs.

Qasem’s experience trying to get a passport provides an example. “When I go to the passport department, the focal point person I meet will tell me the date. He will tell me to come straight to him and not other people, in order to proceed with my application without delays in the procedure.” His point is that one person has arbitrary power over him and will – implicitly or explicitly – ask him for direct compensation for what would be a routine civil service officer’s job in any other country.

Corruption also prevents people from accessing jobs. Returnees told us their most difficult experience upon their return has been accessing the local labor market. Beyond the obvious difficulties of finding a job in a country and an economy at war, they identified other, related issues.

“The lack of sufficient facilities, the corruption and bribes, and the lack of employment opportunities negatively impact our ability to find a decent job.” one returnee, Atiquallah, said.

Another, 25-year-old Ziah, lamented the connections needed for securing work. “Corruption, bribes and using middle men are the main reasons for unemployment,” he said.

Some returnees said they felt unable to express their opinion back home, let alone impact the way things get done. “Everyone [here] does whatever they like and there is no one to ask people and take [their opinions],” says 25-year-old Shapoor, who had to turn back from his journey to Europe.

Afghans who do not have a foot in the door are effectively blocked from participating in their local economies and communities. So they turn to Europe, where some migrants told us the reality even exceeded their dreams.

“I was really surprised about the opportunities that people had – to determine their own futures and future of their country,” says Mohammad, who has spent close to a year in Europe. “There is no corruption – each citizen … has access to his or her rights, and interaction of people is good and human. I didn’t face anything that has disappointed me.”

Qasem, having reached a stable country, holds high hopes for his future once again. Despite delays in the asylum process, he will not give up on the chance to restart life in Europe.

“I learned a lot of things from migrating and the most important thing is to love each other and accept each other as brothers, as citizens, whether Muslim, Pashtun, Tajik or Hazara,” he says. “Here, people solve the issues through legal procedures, which you cannot see in Afghanistan.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Refugees Deeply.

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