How much do we know about the countries where people on the move come from? Why do people on the move leave their countries?

18. 03. 2020

Author: Vanja Stokić

Camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina for people on the move are currently overcrowded, with several thousand people staying in abandoned facilities and bus stops. They all left their homes looking for a better future in Europe's countries.

While some are fleeing war and saving their lives, others are migrating for economic reasons and want to find a job in Europe and bring the rest of their family. Also, the countries they come from often violate human rights and create an atmosphere which makes life impossible for people who do not want to bow to a particular social current.

Pakistan

Family and traditional values ​​are highly respected in this country. Around 80 percent of the population is Sunni and their religion is traditional Islam, while minority groups have no right to publicly either display their symbols or mark religious holidays. The poverty rate is extremely high; out of 200 million inhabitants, as many as 60 million live below the poverty line. Particularly at risk are people living in villages, without electricity and water, without documents and voting rights.

One of the most critical domains in Pakistan is education, with only one percent of the state budget invested in it. At the Oslo International Summit in 2015, Pakistan was declared as one of the countries with the poorest education, while Human Rights Watch stated last year in its report that more than 22 million Pakistani children do not attend school. Even if they start their education, 60 percent of girls and 50 percent of boys drop out of school in sixth grade in order to help their families with their struggle for survival. In the report, political instability, repression of civil society and themedia, and escalation of ethnic and religious tensions are blamed for this situation. The lack of
education for girls contributes to increasing gender inequality, which is accompanied by high rates of violence, rape, forced marriages and the like.

A third of Pakistan's children are too thin, half are anemic, while 44% are slow-growing, according to the 2011 National Nutrition Survey. Eight out of one hundred children die before their fifth birthday due to poor nutrition, the 2016 World Hunger Index showed.

Human rights in Pakistan are also undermined. The LGBT community is considered taboo and its members have to hide their orientation, while even the laws provide penalties for same-sex relations.

When you ask people from Pakistan why they are headed to Europe, they will answer you with a simple – There is no food without a job.

”Because of corruption, only the rich have an opportunity for employment. We want to work and get
paid like everyone else, pay taxes, and after a while acquire a regular residence permit”, one of the
young men tells us.

Afghanistan

The Taliban are the main reason why people from Afghanistan are heading to Europe. They began governing in 1996 and held their position until 2001. However, they have since been very much present in Afghan society. They preached radical Islam, imposed brutal punishments, and forced women to wear burqas and men to grow their beards. Music, television and cinema were forbidden, while girls were not eligible for education.

They are linked to the terrorist al Qaeda, which is why they are constantly at war with the rest of Afghanistan, the United States and international forces. They are believed to have their roots and strongholds in neighboring Pakistan, where they regroup their ranks after withdrawal. Their power comes mostly from finances, as Afghanistan is the world leader in opium production, while the Taliban control areas where poppy suitable for heroin production is grown.

It is very difficult to estimate the number of soldiers and civilians killed during the roughly twenty years of conflict. A year ago, President Ashraf Ghani announced that since 2014, 45,000 members of the security forces have been killed in clashes. A United Nations report dated February 2019 states that 32,000 citizens have been killed.

Women are in a particularly difficult position in this country; in 2011 the Thomson Reuters Foundation declared Afghanistan to be the most dangerous place in the world for women. More than 80 percent are victims of domestic violence, around 60 percent get married before the age of 16, while some of them are sold by their parents to settle debts. If they run away from violence and arranged marriages, they are charged with so-called moral crime and face imprisonment. Half of the girls do not have access to education.

Men, on the other hand, are under constant pressure to join the Taliban.

”I live in a village controlled by the Taliban. One day they came to my house and said I had to fight for them. My father said we have to leave. My family is still there; my father is old and cannot travel. I have five brothers, two are in the national army, one is currently in Turkey and two are very young. I started this journey with one brother, but he stayed in Turkey because we did not have enough money to travel together. We decided that I would come here and try to get through to a European country and then help him join me”, a young man from Afghanistan told us.

Like in Pakistan, the LGBT community in Afghanistan is under different kinds of pressure. The media rarely report about their problems, they are viewed as an immoral and anti-Islamic phenomenon.

Because of a fear of condemnation and violence, members of the community decide not to come out to even their own families, who then arrange marriages for them with people of the opposite sex. Members of the community live in fear of homicide, especially in regions controlled by the Taliban.

Syria

The war in Syria has been ongoing for almost ten years, led by rebels on one side, while on the other side the Syrian regime is led by the country’s president Bashar al Assad, whose family has ruled this country since 1970. Observing the present religions, Syria is a kind of mosaic of diversity, which is a difficult circumstance in warfare, as there are many different armed, paramilitary formations. Inaddition to the local population who has joined them, on the rebels’ side in the war are also volunteers from all over the world, who came to Syria for jihad.

It is estimated that approximately half a million of the population has been killed so far, while several million people have left their homes and moved to other parts of the country or abroad.

About 70 percent of the population is extremely poor; there is no protection from torture or from political persecution. The Syrian Human Rights Network reported that, since the outbreak of the war, nearly 30,000 children and minors have been killed, while about 5,000 have been captured.

Violations of human rights are most obvious in the killing of civilians, torture and abuse and in restrictions of media and internet freedom. When incarcerated on any grounds, members of the LGBT community are imprisoned in separate rooms where they receive ”psychological treatment” from staff.

Algeria

After the closure of private companies linked to corruption scandals, around half a million Algerian citizens lost their jobs, mostly in the irrigation and construction sectors. Approximately at the same time, residents of this country were protesting against President Said Bouteflika, who was in that position since 1999. Extensive corruption investigations were launched, involving former and current officials, their families, senior intelligence officials, as well as businessmen. While some supported the investigations, others claimed they had nothing to do with corruption, but were aimed at politically overthrowing the president. After ten months of protesting, Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected as the country's new president. The self-holding of the elections was met with disapproval by
a large number of people; tens of thousands of protesters were on the streets, warning that the elections were just a way to keep the regime going. The protests continued and thousands of people ended up in jail.

The young men from Algeria we spoke with say that the reason for emigrating from this country is not money, but the overall social climate.

”In Algeria, we have jobs at our disposal, but the administration and bureaucracy as well as corruption are the problem. Children of officials obtain the highest ranks, although they are not competent for these jobs. Officials must be subordinated to the system because they have the highest salaries. An ordinary citizen cannot meet basic needs with his monthly salary. They earn around 80 Euro a month, while administration officials receive around 1,000 Euro, which is a huge difference. There simply is no justice or responsibility and concern for citizens,” they tell us.

They stress that most young people in Algeria are highly educated, but also marginalized by the
system.

”There is a social housing system, but its distribution depends on bribery, favoritism and bureaucracy. The same thing happens with job applications. There is no violence in Algeria, we just want a better life”, they say.

Men have the right to divorce without explanation and stating reasons, while women are not allowed to do so. They have the right to terminate the marriage only if specific circumstances arise, for example if the husband leaves. Also, laws do not recognize rape within marriage as a crime.

According to reports of the International Association of Gay Men and Lesbians, homosexual relations are illegal in Algeria. Community members may be imprisoned for same-sex relations for the duration of two months to two years and also fined.

Tunisia

In recent years, Tunisia has increasingly been the target of terrorist attacks, while its citizens depart to other countries for warfare and terrorist actions. They are joining al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other groups and the locals are asking Tunisian authorities not to allow them to return to the country. We are talking about approximately 3,000 young men, of whom 800 have already returned to Tunisia and are in prison or under house arrest.

Even though since 2015 Tunisia has new laws to combat terrorism and prosecute its citizens, its officials assess that the country is not yet ready to take back so many people.

It is often emphasized in the public that women in Tunisia have more freedom and rights than in neighboring countries, but human rights defenders point out that this is not quite the case in practice. Laws have been enacted to guarantee women the same rights during divorce as men, sexual violence is punished by the death penalty, as well as sexual intercourse with girls under 10, while physical assaults by family members are considered a more serious act than assaults committed by persons outside of the family.

On the other hand, there is discrimination regarding child custody and the right to inherit property. Societal pressure often affects women's decision not to report sexual violence. Eight years ago, the results of a study were published stating that one in six women in Tunisia had experienced sexual violence, while one in five had been physically assaulted. Homosexuality is punished by imprisonment and is treated as a criminal offense.

”Tunisia is good for tourists, but not really for the locals”, young man we spoke with told us.

Morocco

According to reports of organizations advocating the improvement of human rights, Moroccan citizens face diverse repression on a daily basis. Freedom of gathering is restricted, as is freedom of speech and media, while torture of prisoners also takes place. Those who criticize the system are prosecuted and placed in overcrowded prisons. Some of them have been tortured and imprisoned in secret prisons on charges of terrorism. In 2011, there were approximately 6,000 prisoners under the age of 20 in Moroccan prisons. Laws stipulate the death penalty, but it has not been executed in 30 years.

Religious freedoms are protected by the Constitution, but in practice they are very restricted. Laws permit violent conversion of members of another religion to Islam, but the reverse process is forbidden.

Morocco is characterized by child labor, so girls are exploited in domestic labor for very little reimbursement. They suffer physical abuse from their employers, work 84 hours a week for $11 per month. According to the law, a work week may take up to 44 hours, but this does not include this type of labor.

As in Tunisia, women here are discriminated against in terms of inheritance. What is positive is that a woman can divorce her husband without his consent, in case he leaves her, is unable to support her or abuses her. However, in order to prove abuse, it is necessary to provide two witnesses.

This country also has one of the most rigorous laws on abortion, which is not allowed even after incest or rape. It may only be performed during the first six weeks of pregnancy if the woman’;s life, physical or mental health is at risk.

Morocco's general social climate has led to the citizens of this country very easily becoming victims of human trafficking. Homosexuality is prohibited by criminal law which is rarely enforced. Same-sex relations are common in tourist resorts, where they are mostly associated with prostitution.

This text was created in collaboration with partners from the Schüler Helfen Leben organization in Berlin.

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