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Last Updated: Friday, 8 December 2006, 05:03 GMT
Afghans resisting leaving UK

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News community affairs

UK PM Tony Blair and Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Tony Blair: Vowed to stand by government of Hamid Karzai:
Hooshang Paiger knows the numbers - and the numbers say that thousands of Afghans in the UK are not going home.

At the Afghan Association in London, Mr Paiger and colleagues receive thousands of calls a year for help - not least from Afghans trying to secure their future in the UK.

And five years on from the fall of the Taleban - the vast majority of Afghans in the UK are no closer to returning to a nation where security remains an unanswered question.

"People are desperate to stay here," says Mr Paiger. "There is a lot of instability, particularly in the south of the country and people are not confident about returning."

A university-trained economist, Mr Paiger fled in the face of the rise of the Taleban and fought a long battle to be allowed to settle in the UK. He is now a British citizen.

He is one of 36,000 Afghans who have sought asylum in the UK since 1994. Despite the 2001 fall of the Taleban, Afghans remain one of the nationalities most likely to seek asylum in the UK, although the numbers have significantly declined.

The reason why people keep coming, says Mr Paiger, is because they don't believe Afghanistan is stable. While British troops are fighting on the ground - many Afghans in Britain would rather stay put.

Life expectancy: 46 years
Quarter of children die before five
53% of rural population in poverty
Teachers earn $70 a month

"There is the saying that Rome wasn't built in a day," says Mr Paiger. "Just because there are foreign troops there, you cannot then say that everything is solved.

"It is going to take 10 years for the country to be safe. Unless the British are going to supply a bodyguard for each person who goes back, it's unlikely that many will return."

The two factors preventing people from returning to the country are security and economic opportunity, say community leaders.

One doctor in the UK Afghan community, who asked to remain anonymous because of an ongoing battle over his immigration status, told the BBC he would prefer to go home - but believed there was no future there.

"You don't just trade in a secure life because Tony Blair is telling us that Hamid Karzai is a good leader," he said.

"I worked hard to become a doctor and feel I can do some good here. My brother went back and found nothing there - nothing at all. Our family house was a wreck, destroyed. Nobody can live like that."

Assisted returns

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the intergovernmental body that facilitates the return of displaced people worldwide.

Nader Hassani and Hooshang Paiger of London Afghan Association
Caseload: Nader Hassani and Hooshang Paiger
The IOM works with the UK government to return Afghans voluntarily. It says it aids re-integration with grants and support in finding work, such as helping small businesses to launch.

During 2006, the IOM ran a pilot scheme aimed at increasing the numbers of failed asylum seekers prepared to leave the UK quietly.

The UK government offered enhanced financial support of up to 3,000 in cash and assistance to those willing to leave - an offer which is cheaper to the taxpayer than a forced deportation.

The beefed-up package has led to a doubling in the numbers returning to home countries.

But, crucially, many Afghans have been unwilling to take up the offer. In 2005 the IOM helped some 380 Afghans voluntarily leave the UK. In the first 11 months of 2006, during which the enhanced scheme was run, the number returning under IOM schemes fell to 294.

The IOM has assisted 889 voluntary returns to Afghanistan since 2002. That is less than 3% of all Afghans who have sought UK asylum since 1994.

Afghan policemen
Security: Many ex-pat Afghans remain unconvinced

Jan de Wilde, the head of the IOM mission in the UK, says assisting returns is a complicated business that demands careful management.

"We look to make very sure that what is on offer [to a potential returnee] is the correct package," says Mr de Wilde.

"It is up to them to decide whether or not to return. We respect that choice. If they want to go back, we don't say things like 'it's too dangerous' - that would be patronising given that will be savvy enough to know what is going on in their own country.

"But for many [irregular migrants] in the UK, they see an alternative - and that's existing in the underground economy. I recently spoke to one Zimbabwean who said he had more chance of winning the Euro rollover lottery than being deported."

Mr de Wilde says the number of people who take up assisted voluntary returns does not depend alone on the financial offer - but on a whole range of factors which boil down to whether someone believes their life will be easier and more secure in one place or another. This makes it very difficult to predict how individuals respond to appeals to return home.

Enforced returns

So while that appeal has gone out to Afghans - in the UK it may be falling on deaf ears.

We believe that Afghanistan, rather than being abused as a haven for terrorists and for the Taleban to oppress people, that Afghanistan and its people deserve the chance to increase their prosperity and to live in a proper democratic state
Prime Minister Tony Blair, November 2006

A spokesman for the Home Office was unavailable for comment on the fall in the numbers of failed asylum seekers returning voluntarily to Afghanistan.

However, the UK government believes that removals of failed asylum seekers and others with no legal right to be in the UK are both key to a well-managed migration system.

Official figures show that the Home Office pressed ahead with the deportation of a further 775 Afghans during 2005 - people placed on a flight to Kabul.

The government also supports President Hamid Karzai's appeal to expatriate Afghans to return to help rebuild the nation.

But Hooshang Paiger says that Afghans in the UK are far from convinced.

"People go back and have a look. They see how bad things are. They see they cannot work - the government cannot provide work or security.

"I don't think we expected something magical to happen after 2001. But we did expect a minimum. And people are frustrated that it has not happened."

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