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  • Germany’s Second-Class Refugees:Afghan asylum-seekers stuck in limbo
  • Lam Thuy Vo (bio)

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As an Afghan refugee, Zabi Hashemi has a 50-50 chance of receiving asylum status in Germany.


MÜHLTAL, Germany—Zabi Hashemi has lived in Germany for over a year, and, for one month, he was allowed to work. In July, Hashemi volunteered at a kindergarten for children with special needs in this town of about 15,000 people in the state of Hesse. The kids loved him, and he loved them back, Hashemi told me. His colleagues said the children would immediately smile when they saw him. [End Page 61]

But now, Hashemi, a 33-year-old philosophy graduate is back to spending much of the day alone in his sparse bedroom. When I met him in August, his wall decoration consisted of only a framed stock image of shells and a white piece of paper scribbled with German words he’s trying to teach himself. As he sat on his bed, he eagerly pointed out photographs of himself alongside the kindergarteners, looking at them longingly. He just wants to work again, he said.

The problem is Hashemi is unauthorized to do so. Unlike most of the other refugees in the converted hotel where he lives, Hashemi fled Afghanistan—not Syria. As an Afghan migrant, his wait for a legal status that would allow him to take a job is months longer than for a Syrian refugee. He’s also barred from enrolling in state-sponsored German integration and language courses; they’re for those who have received some form of government permission to stay.

Hashemi fled his native Kabul, fearful that the Taliban would murder him for being an atheist. He has applied for asylum, but finds himself stuck in a long and uncertain queue. He and seven other Afghans in his building must make a temporary life in small-town Germany, with only basic language skills and little to do.


Afghans have left their country in several waves. They fled the Soviet invasion of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Taliban rule in the 1990s, and conflict that intensified with the deployment of American troops in the 2000s.

In the past 15 years, of the tens of thousands of Afghans entering Europe, 54,000 have obtained German citizenship, according to a report by Pro Asyl, an organization that provides legal aid to migrants. By the end of 2015, 131,000 Afghan nationals lived in Germany, the report said.

But those numbers may not be up-to-date and therefore may not capture those like Hashemi who, alongside roughly 1.1 million refugees from Afghanistan and various other countries, came to Germany in 2015 after years of sustained instability in their home countries. German authorities received 476,649 applications for asylum in 2015—up from 173,100 the year before. The majority were submitted by Syrians, followed by Albanians and Kosovars. Afghans were the second-largest non-European group to apply for asylum in Germany in 2015.

While Syrians, Eritreans, and Iraqis had their asylum applications approved in 2015 at rates of 96 percent, 92 percent, and 89 percent respectively, that number was under 50 percent for Afghans. In 2015, it took an average of 3.2 months to process applications submitted by Syrians, according to Germany’s Office for Migration and Refugees. For Afghans, it was 10.2 months, which explains Hashemi’s long wait.

One reason why the acceptance rate of Afghans is so much lower than that of Syrians is because Afghanistan is now considered a country with “safe and unsafe” regions. A spokesperson for Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees wrote in an email that decision-makers are “briefed on the circumstances in the country of origin.” Thus, though asylum-seekers must prove that their lives would be in danger back home, a specialized division of the migration agency analyzes their stories against a database of country conditions, based on information provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the German Embassy in Afghanistan, UNHCR, and other NGOs, the spokesperson said.

Yet, Afghanistan’s conflict...


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pp. 61-67
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