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After chaotic evacuation, Afghans in the Netherlands struggle to find stability

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After chaotic evacuation, Afghans in the Netherlands struggle to find stability

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NIJMEGEN, Netherlands – The email arrived at 3 a.m., giving Nematullah Khosh Ahmadi and his wife, Masouma Ebrahimi, three hours to decide whether to take an evacuation flight to the Netherlands- Down and leave Afghanistan, their homeland, perhaps never to return.

Living under the Taliban was not an option for the couple, who are filmmakers who have long documented the violence the extremist group has inflicted on Afghanistan. But that didn’t make the decision any less heartbreaking, they said. They packed their important documents, a video camera and a pair of gloves for their little girl – and they ran away.

Mr. Ahmadi and Ms. Ebrahimi, who were among some 2,000 Afghans evacuated to the Netherlands this summer, in the frantic weeks before the United States left Afghanistan, are now living in a temporary camp deep in a forest near the eastern town of Nijmegen. The camp is home to around 1,000 evacuees, who live in shared tents that allow little privacy and, although heated, cannot protect themselves from the winter cold.

Evacuees recently learned they would be moving in the coming weeks, but for many their hopes for more solid housing seemed to be fading given the shortage of more permanent social housing for poor Dutch people and refugees.

The Dutch government said all residents of the Nijmegen camp will be transferred to different refugee centers by the end of January, but an official from the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers said they could include structures like containers, tents and even boats.

All Afghans evacuated in August have already received residence permits, sparing them the bureaucratic headaches they experience in some other countries. But the uncertainty over housing has been extremely destabilizing for the Afghans in the camp who, while grateful to the Netherlands for having welcomed them, are struggling to come to terms with their new life.

“If you take a tree and plant it somewhere else, it will stay alive, but it won’t bear fruit,” Ahmadi said. “My generation had big dreams of changing our country for the better. I never wanted to leave.

Mr Ahmadi and Ms Ebrahimi arrived in the Netherlands at a time when they were embroiled in an increasingly heated debate over immigration. The nation’s hardened stance on the issue contributed to the chaotic evacuation of people from Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power in mid-August, critics said, and made it more difficult for the Afghans to arrive. additional.

In the Netherlands, as elsewhere in Europe, politicians fear a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis, when more than a million people, mostly from war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan, demanded asylum in the European Union, triggering a populist reaction.

The Dutch government was accused of not acting quickly enough to evacuate many Afghans eligible for asylum, and initially focused only on the interpreters who had worked with the Dutch military as part of the presence. of NATO in Afghanistan.

The foreign and defense ministers resigned after being pressured on the issue in parliament, and the Dutch government finally decided in the last days before the US withdrawal to evacuate some Afghans who were working in sensitive areas, including journalists.

But in October, a sign of a hardening of the stance towards asylum seekers as voters increasingly turn to far-right parties opposed to more immigration, the Dutch government tightened the criteria for those who are still in Afghanistan, leaving hundreds of people in limbo.

Since September, only “a few hundred” of the 2,100 eligible Afghans have been evacuated, according to the Dutch Foreign Ministry.

For many in the Netherlands, the situation was reminiscent of the trauma of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1995, when Dutch peacekeepers failed to protect Muslim men from Bosnian Serb militias. About 8,000 people were killed.

“A lot of people have said, ‘We are doing it again,'” said Lenie van Goor from the Nijmegen section of the Dutch Refugee Council, a charity. “These Afghans are under our responsibility.

Ahmad Khalid Nawabi, who worked as a technology specialist with the European Union’s police mission in Afghanistan, said one of his former colleagues on the mission was killed by the Taliban in October. An interpreter, who was on the Dutch evacuation list, was also killed in October, according to media reports.

“While not officially confirmed, it is plausible that the interpreter in question was killed,” three government ministers wrote in a recent letter to lawmakers, saying it was impossible to pinpoint those responsible.

Kati Piri, an opposition MP who called for more Afghans to be evacuated to the Netherlands, called the Dutch response “shameful”, saying the lists of people allowed on board on flights had been drafted in a chaotic and belated manner.

“The Dutch government has been extremely careful not to open the doors to too many Afghans,” she said.

Sigrid Kaag, who was Dutch foreign minister at the time of the evacuation but resigned in September, defended the government’s actions in parliament. But she admitted that the Netherlands and other countries had had a “blind spot” in underestimating the speed at which Afghanistan would collapse.

According to the European Commission, European Union countries have so far evacuated 28,000 Afghans and pledged to take in 40,000 more. The Netherlands has pledged to admit 3,159 Afghans, but according to a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, that includes around 2,000 already evacuated.

Amnesty International warned in a recent report that Afghans face “formidable obstacles in seeking safety outside the country” and that if they manage to flee they will be subjected to illegal refoulements, detentions and to deportations in Europe and Central Asia.

While all Afghan evacuees have received their residence permits, other Afghan asylum seekers, who arrived in the Netherlands earlier or without permission, are left in “a legal vacuum,” said Wil Eikelboom, a specialist lawyer in the asylum.

Their asylum applications have in fact been pending since this summer. “The usual wait time for a decision is 18-24 months,” said Mr. Eikelboom. “I have clients who are very frustrated about this.” People awaiting a decision are accommodated in reception centers managed by a government body.

For the Afghans evacuated to the Netherlands, the wait for accommodation has been difficult.

Migrants typically receive accommodation within 14 weeks of being approved as refugees, said Sonja Kloppenburg, spokesperson for the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers. But due to a housing shortage, Afghan evacuees are unlikely to be able to find permanent accommodation anytime soon.

The Interior Ministry says it does not know how long Afghan evacuees will have to wait as 12,000 refugees from various countries are currently lining up to find homes.

The authorities in Nijmegen, however, succeeded in getting the Afghan children from the Nijmegen camp into local schools. About 300 Afghans aged 5 to 11 started school in the last week of October. With the help of retired teachers, they learn Dutch.

“It’s going to be a long road for me to rebuild my life,” said Fardin, 40, a photographer from Kabul who asked to be identified only by his first name, and whose son Subhanallah attended the local school. “But I hope it will be an opportunity for my son.”

8-year-old Subhanallah looks set to embrace the future in the Netherlands.

Asked about his dream job, he said he wanted to one day be the leader of the country.

Mr Nawabi, who has worked with the EU Police Mission, said this month that he will take a big step in his new life in the Netherlands and move to a house in Nijmegen at the end of December.

“I just got lucky, and my faith could have helped,” he said. “But not everyone has a home.”

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