On October 21st, the Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis and the Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Meerwais Nab signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). According to Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis the aim of this MoU is to improve the bilateral cooperation in the field of immigration and to deepen the political relations. The MoU is similar to the one signed between Germany, the European Union and Afghanistan in 2016, and it covers different areas of cooperation.
Part of the MoU is an agreement to cooperate on the facilitation of voluntary returns, which raises many concerns. First, itis questionable how voluntary such returns can be. Many Afghan asylum seekers wait for months (sometimes even years) for a decision on their asylum applications, while living in in deplorable conditions, finding themselves in a state of limbo.In this context, for some asylum seekers, returning to Afghanistan might be seen as the only way out of this limbo.
In addition, the Global Peace Index placed Afghanistan on the top of the list of 163 countries, considering it the least peaceful, least secure and most unsafe country in 2020. This is also reflected in statistics. Asylum applicants from Afghanistan represented 38,1% of the total arrivals to Greece by sea between 1st January 2020 and 31st July 2020, and 45% of the refugees and asylum seekers residing on the Islands as of the 25th of October 2020. Between the 1st of January and the 30th of June, 3.710 Afghan asylum-seekers - 76,4% of the total Afghan applicants - received internationalprotection (either refugee status or subsidiary protection) at first instance. This high recognition rate emphasizes the fact that Afghanistan is not safe.
After the establishment of this Memorandum of Understanding, the fear of an increase in the number of rejections and returns raised. If these fears become reality, many vulnerable people will be left out without protection or return to an unsafe country where they will be at constant risk.