Dr Liza Schuster draws on research conducted in Afghanistan as part of evidence for a European Union report.

Published (Updated )

Afghans who have been deported from Europe face violence, debt and social isolation on their return, according to research from a City academic in a European Union report.

Dr Liza Schuster, who has interviewed more than 100 failed Afghan asylum seekers, has found that people experience multiple challenges when they arrive back in their home country.

Her findings are cited in the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) Country of Origin Information Report on Afghanistan, titled Individuals targeted under societal and legal norms.

The document is being used by authorities in Europe to inform their decisions on whether or not to accept asylum claims from Afghans and whether or not they should be returned to Afghanistan.

Citing evidence provided by Dr Schuster, the report states: “Afghans returning from the West are frequently perceived by others to be a source of funds, or wealthy after having spent time abroad and returnees fear being kidnapped for ransom for this reason, or that their children will be abducted for extortion. Dr Schuster indicated that she knew of three cases where returned Afghans were threatened or beaten up on the basis of their perceived wealth.”

Debt and social stigma

The initial fieldwork for Dr Schuster’s project, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, was conducted in 2012-2013. She continues to work in Afghanistan on the issue and is participating in an Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expert meeting on refugee returns in Geneva.

Dr Schuster, a Reader in the Department of Sociology, found returnees are often in a worse financial situation than when they left and can become indebted to smugglers and dependent on their families.

“Unemployment, underemployment and lack of financial support were reportedly problems for returnees,” the report states.

Dr Schuster says it is extremely difficult to predict how a returnee will be received by their community because of stigma, suspicion and variation in attitudes towards western society.

Her research suggests survival in Afghanistan is strongly linked to personal networks and whether someone has the support of a person with moral authority in their community.

In reference to Dr Schuster’s evidence, the report states: “After a failed migration, some returned Afghans whose families invested in their journey reportedly see them as a failure and they face familial stigma or pressure for this… Afghans returned from the West reportedly indicate a sense of bleak desperation regarding their future prospects and many plan to re-migrate.”

Problems adjusting

According to Dr Schuster, some people may feel shame at their failure to secure refugee status. They may also struggle to adjust because of their time spent abroad and can be unsure about appropriate behaviour or who to trust.

“Dr Schuster explained that voicing opinions that could be perceived as challenging norms around Islam or gender, for example, could put young people who have spent extended periods in Europe at risk,” the report states.

The report aims to provide relevant information for asylum decision-makers in the UK and across Europe for the assessment of international protection status determination (including refugee status and subsidiary protection).

Read the EASO Country of Origin Information Report, Afghanistan: Individuals targeted under societal and legal norms

Related schools, departments and centres