RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Tens of thousands of Afghans fled to Germany over the past decade to escape years of civil war and Taliban oppression. Now the German government has decided that Afghanistan is safe enough for them to return and has started forced deportations. The decision has rattled the Afghan community, especially the minority Hindus who say they'll face religious persecution if forced to return. NPR's Rachel Martin reports.
RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
In their apartment in a Hamburg suburb, members of the Guy family(ph) take turns serving each other spiced milk tea and consoling their mother, Raishi(ph), a quiet woman with black circles under her eyes. She sobs on the phone when another family member calls to check on her daughter's whereabouts. Two weeks ago, Raishi's 30-year-old daughter, Sima Kapur(ph), was arrested by German immigration officials, detained for 12 days, then last week, she was forced on a plane bound for Kabul. Twenty-six-year-old Sunil Guy(ph) says his sister is ill and she and her husband have no one left in Afghanistan. Even worse, he says he reads daily reports on the Internet about how Hindus are routinely persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists.
Mr. SUNIL GUY (Afghani Hindu): (Through Translator) I don't want to talk bad about Islam. I respect every religion, but when we see and read about this, we think about our own family, own kids, our own women because the situation in Afghanistan is very dangerous for Hindus right now. We don't know what will become of my sister.
MARTIN: Sima Kapur and her husband fled Afghanistan in 1998 after the Taliban killed Kapur's father, aunt and uncle. Like thousands of Afghan refugees, they lived in Germany on social welfare, without asylum status. These Afghans were the first tapped to leave when the German government decided last June to send Afghan refugees back. Ulrike Nehls-Golla is a spokesperson for Hamburg's immigration office.
Ms. ULRIKE NEHLS-GOLLA (Spokesperson, Hamburg Immigration Office): (Through Translator) We have been informed by the federal government that the situation in Afghanistan is stable now and that individuals sent back should have no concerns of being persecuted.
MARTIN: It's up to individual states to decide if and when to send Afghan refugees back, and Hamburg is the first to start deporting Afghans, a decision Nehls-Golla says is also financial.
Ms. NEHLS-GOLLA: (Through Translator) The largest Afghan community in Germany is in Hamburg, so our situation was the most urgent. Most of the Afghan refugees living here get social assistance, and we all know that the public budget is very tight. So Hamburg was very interested in starting the process as soon as possible.
MARTIN: Twenty-three-year-old Radjar Shuafshar(ph) lives alone with six pet birds in a small Hamburg apartment.
(Soundbite of birds)
Mr. RADJAR SHUAFSHAR (Afghan Living in Germany): (Foreign language spoken)
WATSON: He can't get a work permit, so he lives on welfare payments of about $200 a month. Shuafshar came to Germany more than six years ago after his family was killed by the Taliban and he himself was tortured. He takes anti-depressants and says he's tried to kill himself twice. Two days ago, he got a letter from immigration officials telling him he must either leave Germany voluntarily or be deported. He says Afghanistan is still a war zone and the thought of going back keeps him up at night.
Mr. SHUAFSHAR: (Through Translator) I haven't slept for one minute since I got the letter. I lived in Germany for so long, and now they want me to go back. But the situation there is not better. It's worse than before, and I have nothing there.
MARTIN: The deportations have created private anxiety among Muslims in Hamburg. But it's been the Hindu community, on behalf of Sima Kapur, that's protested publicly. Recently, thousands of Hindus marched in the streets, demanding an end to the deportations.
(Soundbite of protesters)
MARTIN: The German government acknowledges that Afghanistan is still volatile, and immigration officials say they'll consider exceptions on a case-by-case basis. But Torsten Bushbach(ph), an immigration lawyer representing hundreds of Afghan refugees including Hindus, says the odds of that are slim. Officials in Hamburg say about 12,000 Afghans will be asked to leave voluntarily with financial assistance, or be deported. Meanwhile, other German states are beginning the deportation process.
Rachel Martin, NPR News, Berlin.
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