Afghans are placed second highest in terms of numbers of immigrants heading towards European countries, after the Syrian immigrants. As of early 2016, more than 150,000 of Afghans have headed towards Europe, most of whom are under the age of 30.
Many politicians, analysts and media pundits think of the obvious reasons for the cause of this exodus: the deteriorating security situation, the Taliban, and the Islamic State’s growing presence in Afghanistan.
But I oppose the common view on this topic. Average middle income Afghans who live in urban areas like Kabul are not specifically targeted by the insurgents unless they are politicians or work in high level positions of the government.
Late last year right before the final term exams, two of my classmates who were brothers left for Germany. Among other kids in the class, they were considered to be very well off. It costs anywhere between ten to fifteen thousand dollars to get to a European country illegally, and many families cannot afford that kind of money.
If they could afford it, I believe that many more than just two of my classmates would leave for Europe. An increasing number of Afghan youth have been departing for Europe not to flee any personal threat or political persecution. Teenagers think that the best thing to do after high school graduation or even before that is to get to a Western country. There is a mentality among the Afghan youth that if you make it to one of those countries, then you are set for life.
For many youth, the path to making a living is obstructed by series of hurdles. Coupled with the allure of the West, Afghan’s cutthroat education system and the uncertainty of an economic future after university fails to deter teenagers from risking their lives to get on a boat to a European country.
“There is a mentality among the Afghan youth that if you make it to one of those countries, then you are set for life.”
University matriculation is based on a single entrance exam, Konkoor, for very few limited spaces available. Those who do not matriculate to the government-run universities have the option of going to private universities. But most families cannot afford this option.
Those who do graduate from university have very slim prospects of getting a job with reasonable pay. September of last year, a photo of a recent university graduate went viral on social media with the caption, “Young graduate sells corn in his graduation cap and gown in Jalalabad”.
Fleeing is in some ways a self-replenishing investment. Afghans who leave for Europe are often economic migrants. Relatives pool money and the refugees take loans to afford the illegal travel to Europe. Once he gets to Europe, an Afghan can find a labor job and send money back to his family to pay off the loan.
People who are stuck in Afghanistan have no employment options, so pooling money and taking loans to pay for private university is futile, since graduates are often unable to find work to repay the debt.
The refugee situation has taken a toll on Afghanistan’s economy. I believe that the government must attack the multi-branched root of the problem. The education system must become more integrated and match concrete standards. The government must open up jobs for recent university graduates with reasonable pay. The Afghan government is capable of accomplishing both of these tasks–but only if there is enough political will and honesty to engineer meaningful reform.
Esmat Zeerak: blogger, resident of Kabul, Afghanistan.