With more than a quarter of a million Afghans and their descendants, Germany has the largest Afghan diaspora in Europe.
Afghans and Afghan-Germans have built a vibrant – so often – neglected community in Germany.
Part of their identity is linked to a longing for home, which has only intensified as the situation in Afghanistan becomes more and more dire.
As a four-decade-long war takes its final turn and the Taliban appear to have captured most of the country, many German Afghans are now busy supporting family, friends and colleagues who have not. still managed to flee.
“Germany is a destination of choice, but many will not make it”
Dr Yahya Wardak heads AFGHANIC, an organization that supports the integration of Afghans in Germany, as well as the provision of services, including a health clinic in Kabul, Afghanistan itself. He tries to support his colleagues and relatives who are still in Afghanistan.
“We are in contact with them. They are worried, they are afraid. I try to advise and help them as best I can, but it’s difficult to support them, ”Wardak told Euronews.
As many Afghans try to flee the country and reach Europe, the European Union is currently working to keep Afghan refugees in neighboring countries and away from the continent.
“Afghans have been trying to flee the country for a long time, not just after August 15. Even before that date, thousands of people tried to flee, but Europe has closed its borders… Germany is a great destination, but most will not make it. ,” he said.
Maria Hosein-Habibi is Associate Director at VAFO (Association of Afghan Organizations in Germany), which focuses on uniting Afghan organizations to help provide increased visibility and voice to the diaspora and Afghan-German experts.
VAFO is pushing for continued negotiations and evacuations, especially following the return of several flights to Germany with fewer refugees than possible.
“There are still a lot of people stranded in Afghanistan, both citizens and local staff. The problem is therefore not yet resolved … We call for the establishment of diplomatic bridges in order to protect the rights of minorities and women, and so that civil society is respected and strengthened. We hope to avoid the human rights violations that have occurred in the past, and all of this must be done at the political level, ”Hosein-Habibi told Euronews.
Although the situation looks grim, she supports controversial pressure from the German government to continue negotiations with the Taliban.
“It’s a very difficult situation. It might be hard to grasp, but of course we have hope. But we have to work to make it possible. The Taliban are to some extent financially dependent on the evolution of fines and sanctions, which means there is an opportunity for negotiation, this opportunity just needs to be recognized. What cannot happen is a return to the politics of isolation that we have seen in the past, where civil society has been left alone to deteriorate, ”she said.
“Hamburg is a gateway to the world for many Afghans”
Although large-scale evacuations in the immediate future seem unlikely, Germany is a natural destination due to its large Afghan population. A large part of those who lived in Germany arrived as refugees.
Dr Yahya Wardak told Euronews that the Afghan diaspora in Germany is “a very heterogeneous group, because Afghanistan is a very heterogeneous country, a truly multi-ethnic country. And the Afghan refugees did not all come to Germany at the same time. They came in waves.
Wardak first arrived in Hamburg in 1992. His arrival was no accident. With around 35 to 40,000 Afghan residents, Hamburg has more Afghans than any other city in Europe.
“Hamburg was a gateway to the world for many Afghans,” Wardak said.
Although Hamburg’s Afghan population growth coincided with refugees fleeing war and truly took off 40 years ago, Afghanistan’s ties to the northern German city go back further thanks to the importance of Hamburg in global trade networks.
“The first students and merchants came to Hamburg after World War II. They brought raisins, grapes, and carpets from Afghanistan to sell or export to the United States or elsewhere. And they brought cars, machines and chemicals back to Afghanistan, ”he said.
A sprawling European city, famous for its pouring rains and one of the continent’s largest ports, connecting the lower town to the North Sea, appears to be a strange destination in a landlocked, mountainous country at the crossroads of Central Asia and the South. .
Léma, Wardak’s niece, was born and raised in Hamburg and first visited Kabul as a teenager. According to her, it is difficult to compare the two.
“Hamburg is really beautiful. It’s just a fact. Kabul is not the prettiest city, but the landscapes, the mountains, the streets and the way people were towards each other, their hospitality. The closeness people have to each other, it all sticks to you, “she told Euronews.
Afghans live throughout the greater Hamburg area, although the Steindamm area, just northeast of the city center, has a high enough concentration of Afghans to feel like “Little Kabul,” Léma said.
Hamburg’s large Afghan community helps make the city feel right at home, even on worlds far from Afghanistan.
“When I was younger I know I used to complain and wonder why my parents would want to live in Hamburg, it rains all the time and it’s so cold, why not Italy or the ‘Spain or something? But everything is really good in Hamburg, that pushed me. And there are really a lot of Afghans here. You can’t go to the central station without seeing about ten, ”she said.
What is life like for Afghans in Germany?
Although Léma, 23, has never lived in Afghanistan, recent events are still difficult to deal with.
“Every Afghan has accepted the history of the country, what is happening there now and what has already happened. And when you realize that what happened 20 years ago with the Taliban coming to power will repeat itself, it’s hard for everyone to accept, ”said Léma.
For Afghans arriving in Germany, things will not necessarily be easy. According to Maria Hosein-Habibi, Afghan asylum seekers often struggle with their application process and obtaining support.
“For years refugees from Afghanistan were not treated like refugees from other countries. This is partly related to the security clearances assigned to Afghanistan. This, in turn, gives Afghans seeking refuge limited rights, less access to courses and support. What is really felt in the diaspora. And I can imagine that the current situation is also very disturbing for the Afghans who have recently fled and applied for asylum in Germany, as it could affect their chances here, ”she said.
In 2020, there were over 40,000 Afghan asylum seekers in Germany, more than any other country.
Dr Yahya Wardak told us that leaving asylum claims on hold for years undermines integration, as it limits the ability of asylum seekers to study, learn the language or enter the labor market.
He experienced it himself when he arrived in Germany.
“I had to wait 10 years. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t take a language course outside Hamburg, I couldn’t continue my studies. It was really difficult for me. Our lives have been made more difficult. The most difficult phase of my life was not in Afghanistan but in Hamburg… it is catastrophic for many young people, who only want an education and achieve something but have to go through hell, ”he said. -he declares.
“We are not recognized as part of German society”
Like many Afghans, Wardak worked hard to thrive in Germany. Although Afghans are one of the largest immigrant groups in Germany, Hosein-Habibi believes they have a disproportionate representation in German society in general.
“We are part of society but are not really recognized as such. Part of that is because of the extent to which Afghanistan is portrayed in the media, it’s usually through some kind of horrific reporting. I would bet that the traditional association with Afghanistan is extremely negative, which in my opinion does not reflect reality, ”she said.
The low Afghan representation is particularly visible in the media and political speeches, where discussions about Afghanistan are extremely common, but rarely involve the Afghans themselves.
“There are a lot of people of Afghan origin who are genuinely affected by the topics discussed, and in addition, there are also a lot of people of Afghan origin who are also experts in their field. A good first step would therefore be to invite these people to these discussions. It would help provide a different perspective… which would also mean that the only association most people have with Afghanistan is no longer horror stories and dark reporting, ”she continued.
Defenders and activists like Wardak and Hosein-Habibi are working to support those trying to flee Afghanistan. Meanwhile, they are also focusing on improving the integration and representation of Afghans in Germany, so that when Afghans arrive here, they can have better prospects. But it is the diaspora dynamic, like that concentrated in Hamburg and scattered throughout the rest of the country, which will guarantee the Afghans of the country of Germany a community.
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