Last year we had a scare both in the Netherlands and Belgium when Afghan Sikh refugees were ordered to return to their country. There is now no more talk about returning to Afghanistan, but that does not mean that there are no more problems.
We have a growing Afghan Sikh community in Belgium and many of them live in the Antwerpen area. In the ‘ethnic minority’ neighbourhoods of Antwerpen you find more and more shops run by Afghan Sikhs.
But there are Afghan Sikhs who’s application for asylum have been rejected, who get no or little government support, and whose future is uncertain. I have studied a few of the files, and although I am not a lawyer I think that I understand what is ‘wrong’ with these families from the legal point of view.
Many Afghan refugees do not travel directly from Afghanistan to Europe, but often go via Pakistan, India or Russia. In India there is little risk of being sent back to Afghanistan, but the Afghan Sikhs usually do not get any kind of resident status.
Thus frustrated by the lack of progress in their case and their lack of opportunity to start a business or to get a real job, they decide to go to Europe, North America or even to Australia or New Zealand.
Many European countries use any excuse to reject refugee status applications, the refugees know that their case has been weakened by a stay in Pakistan, India or Russia and think to improve their chances by making up stories.
The authorities in charge of refugees do not have detailed knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan. The position of religious minorities (Christians, Hindus, Shia Muslims, Sikhs) and of women in that country is not improving.
The security situation is not good either, not even in the Kabul area. It is far from easy for Afghan Sikhs to go back to their traditional shops in the bazárs of Afghan cities like Kabul, Jalalabad, Gardez, Ghazni or Kandahar.
Many of the Sikhs in Kabul and in other Afghan cities live on the Gurdwara premises due to lack of housing, many rely on irregular handouts from various sources.
This is the situation: I think I understand why European governments refuse refugee status to some of the Afghan Sikhs. But I also understand that sending members of religious minorities back to Afghanistan is not an option.
Sending people to Pakistan, India or even Russia is not a valid option either. The Russians usually send the refugees straight back to where they came from, and in Pakistan and India most Afghan refugees will not get any secure status, and therefore will not be able to build a future for themselves and their children.
Please Belgian and other European governments, show compassion !