Afghans Begin New Exodus, Often At Great Cost Reversing a decade-old trend, more Afghans are now leaving the country than are returning, as uncertainty grows over the scheduled withdrawal of NATO troops in 2014. For many Afghans, legal migration is out of reach, but that doesn't keep them from sneaking out of their homeland.

Afghans Begin New Exodus, Often At Great Cost

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. There was a gun battle in Afghanistan today. Taliban suicide bombers attacked a joint U.S.-Afghan airbase in the eastern part of the country. The attackers and at least five Afghans were killed. The insurgency is still active in Afghanistan, but U.S. and NATO forces are already preparing for the end of the war. All U.S. combat troops will be out of the country by 2014. For Afghans, the withdrawal leaves a lot of uncertainty about their country's future. Many have already decided not to wait and find out what will happen - they're leaving. And some Afghans are paying huge sums of money to get out any way they can. NPR's Sean Carberry has the story.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Aziz Momand is a 30-year-old taxi driver in Kabul. Sitting in his road worn Toyota Corolla wagon in the center of the city, he explains his desire to leave.

AZIZ MOMAND: (Through Translator) I have concerns that 2014 is arriving and people talking that maybe the situation get worse. There is no good business. Everything is down. (foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: He says he's been thinking of leaving for the last year, ideally to a Scandinavian country where he says they have liberal asylum policies. He says it's too difficult to get a visa, so he's been speaking with people about smuggling his family to Sweden.

MOMAND: (Through Translator) The first step is to go to Iran, then somebody smuggle them to Turkey, and then to Greece, and then to other parts of Europe.

CARBERRY: The only problem with this approach, he says, is that to get his whole family out, it will cost close to $50,000 - a fortune for most Afghans.

MOMAND: (Through Translator) If I have that much money, I would have already been there.

CARBERRY: Even if he does get the money together, there's no guarantee his family will make it safely to Sweden or avoid deportation.

MARCO BOSSO: The smugglers, they do their own propaganda, it's a business and so they are saying it's easy to get here and we'll make sure you have a great future.

CARBERRY: Marco Bosso is the head of the International Organization for Migration office in Afghanistan. He says concrete data about the numbers of Afghans leaving are hard to come by, especially given the criminal nature of trafficking.

BOSSO: What we do know is that the arrivals in Europe are unprecedented.

CARBERRY: Bosso doesn't think the country will fall apart after NATO troops withdraw in 2014, and the IOM is pushing the government to create economic opportunities for people to stay in Afghanistan. Still...

BOSSO: We will see more movement of people. We will see in 2014 because anxiety is there, because there is a lot of uncertainty. It's clear for the Iranians and the Pakistanis that they foresee an increase in the arrivals.

CARBERRY: Embassies in Kabul are reluctant to discuss on the record whether more Afghans are applying for visas. Many European countries don't issue visas in Kabul, and Afghans have to travel to Iran or Pakistan to apply. Turkish officials did say they have made the application process more cumbersome to discourage asylum seekers. But there's another option for Afghans flush with cash: buying visas. NPR's Afghan reporters visited several travel agents in Kabul and discovered that Turkish visas can be bought under the table for $4,100. Russian visas are priced at $17,000. West European visas are the most prized and they cost at least $25,000. These are real visas, but none of the agents would explain how the visas are issued and who gets paid off along the way. Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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