With more than a quarter of a million Afghans and their descendants who call it home, Germany has the largest Afghan diaspora in Europe.
Afghans and Afghan-Germans have built a living, though often overlooked community in Germany.
Part of her identity is tied to a longing for home, which has only intensified as the situation in Afghanistan grows more dire.
As a four-decade war takes its last turn and the Taliban appear to have captured most of the country, many of Germany’s Afghans are now consumed with supporting family, friends and colleagues who have yet to flee.
‘Germany is one of the main destinations, but many will not make it here’
Dr. Yahya Wardak heads AFGHANIC, an organization that supports the integration of Afghans in Germany, as well as providing services, including a health clinic in Kabul, in Afghanistan itself. You have been trying to support colleagues and family 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 is difficult to support them, ”Wardak told Euronews.
As many Afghans try to flee the country and head to 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, thousands tried to flee, but Europe closed its borders… Germany is a main destination, but most will not succeed here. ,” he said.
Maria Hosein-Habibi is Associate Director of VAFO (the Association of Afghan Organizations in Germany), which focuses on bringing Afghan organizations together to help provide greater visibility and a voice for the German-Afghan diaspora and experts.
VAFO is pushing for negotiations and evacuations to continue, particularly in the wake of several flights returning to Germany with fewer refugees than possible.
“There are still many people stranded in Afghanistan, both citizens and local personnel. So, the problem has not yet been solved … We call for the establishment of diplomatic bridges to protect the rights of minorities and women, and so that civil society can be respected and strengthened. We hope to prevent the human rights violations that have occurred in the past, and all of this must be achieved at the political level, “Hosein-Habibi told Euronews.
Although the situation looks bleak, he supports controversial drives by the German government to continue negotiations with the Taliban.
“It is a very difficult situation. It may be difficult to understand, but of course we have hope. But we have to work to make it possible. The Taliban are somewhat financially dependent on how fines and penalties are developed, which means that there is a possibility of negotiation, this opportunity simply needs to be recognized. What cannot happen is a return to the policy of isolation that we have seen in the past, where civil society was left alone to deteriorate, “he 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 living in Germany arrived as refugees.
Dr. Yahya Wardak told Euronews that the Afghan diaspora in Germany is “a very heterogeneous group, as Afghanistan is a very heterogeneous country, a truly multi-ethnic country. And the Afghan refugees did not all arrive in Germany at once. They came in waves. “
Wardak first arrived in Hamburg in 1992. His arrival was no accident. With an estimated 35 to 40,000 Afghan residents, Hamburg is home to 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 the war and really took off for the first time 40 years ago, Afghanistan’s ties with the northern German city go further back thanks to Hamburg’s importance to global trade networks.
“The first students and merchants came to Hamburg after the Second World War. They brought raisins, grapes, and carpets from Afghanistan to sell or export to the United States or elsewhere. And they brought cars, machinery and chemicals to Afghanistan, ”he said.
A sprawling European city, famous for torrential rains and one of the continent’s largest ports, linking the lower city to the North Sea, it seems like a strange destination from a landlocked, mountainous and rugged country at the crossroads. from Central and South Asia. .
Wardak’s niece Léma was born and raised in Hamburg and visited Kabul as a teenager. According to her, it is difficult to compare the two.
“Hamburg is really beautiful. That is just a fact. Kabul is not the most beautiful city, but the landscapes, the mountains, the streets and the way people treat each other, their hospitality. The closeness that people have with each other, all this stays with you, “he told Euronews.
Afghans live throughout the greater Hamburg area, although the Steindamm area, 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 like home, even worlds away from Afghanistan.
“When I was younger I know that 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 Spain or something like that? But everything is very good in Hamburg, I really liked it. And there really are a lot of Afghans here. You can’t go to the central station without seeing about 10 of them, ”he said.
What is life like for Afghans in Germany?
Although 23-year-old Léma has never lived in Afghanistan, recent events remain difficult to process.
“All Afghans have 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 coming to power of the Taliban is going to be repeated, it is difficult for everyone to accept, “said Léma.
For Afghans arriving in Germany, things will not necessarily be easy. According to Maria Hosein-Habibi, asylum seekers from Afghanistan often have difficulties with the application process and receiving support.
“For years, refugees from Afghanistan have not been treated as refugees from other countries. This has to do in part with the security ratings assigned to Afghanistan. This, in turn, gives Afghans seeking refuge limited rights, less access to courses and support. Which is something that is really felt in the diaspora. And I can imagine that the current situation is also very disconcerting for Afghans who have recently fled and filed asylum applications in Germany because it could affect their chances here, ”he said.
In 2020, there were more than 40,000 asylum seekers from Afghanistan in Germany, more than any other country.
Dr. Yahya Wardak told us that allowing asylum applications to remain for years undermines integration as it limits asylum seekers’ ability to study, learn the language, or access the job market.
He himself experienced this when he first arrived in Germany.
“I had to wait 10 years. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t take a language course outside of Hamburg, I couldn’t continue my education. It was really difficult for me. Our lives became more difficult. The most difficult stage of my life was not in Afghanistan but in Hamburg… it is catastrophic for many young people, who just want an education and achieve something but have to go through hell, “he said.
‘We are not recognized as part of German society’
Like many Afghans, Wardak has worked hard to prosper in Germany. Although Afghans are one of the largest immigrant groups in Germany, Hosein-Habibi believes that they are disproportionately underrepresented in general German society.
“We are part of society, but we are not really recognized as such. This is partly due to the extent to which Afghanistan is represented in the media, usually through some kind of horrible news story. I would bet that the dominant association with Afghanistan is extremely negative, which I don’t think reflects reality, ”he said.
Poor Afghan representation is particularly noticeable in the media and political speeches, where discussions about Afghanistan are extremely common, but rarely involve Afghans themselves.
“There are many people with Afghan roots who are really affected by the issues that are being discussed and, furthermore, there are also many people with Afghan roots who are also experts in their field. So a good first step would be to invite these people to these discussions. This would help provide a different perspective … which would also mean that the only association most people have with Afghanistan would no longer be horror stories and dark news, ”he continued.
Advocates and activists like Wardak and Hosein-Habibi are working hard 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 vibrant diaspora, like the one that concentrated in Hamburg and spread across the rest of the country, that will ensure that Afghans in the country of Germany have a community.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism