Britain accused of unlawfully deporting Afghan asylum seekers | World news

Britain and other European countries have been accused of breaching international law, as it emerged that the number of asylum seekers forced to return to Afghanistan has tripled at a time when civilian casualties in the country are at a record high.

According to a report by Amnesty International, unaccompanied children and Christian converts at risk of persecution, torture and death – a status that should legally guarantee asylum – have been removed from European countries.

Between 2015 and 2016, the number of people returned by European countries to Afghanistan nearly tripled, from 3,290 to 9,460. This corresponds to a marked fall in recognition of asylum applications, from 68% in September 2015 to 33% in December 2016, official EU statistics show.

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The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has reported that 2016 was the deadliest year on record for civilians in the country, with 11,418 people killed or injured. In the first six months of 2017 alone, UNAMA documented 5,243 civilian casualties in attacks by armed groups, including the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State.

Amnesty’s report, Forced Back to Danger: Asylum-Seekers Returned from Europe to Afghanistan, further accuses European governments, including the UK, of being “determined” to return young Afghans despite being well aware of the unfolding “horrors” in the country.

It claims that in a leaked 2016 document, EU agencies acknowledged Afghanistan’s “worsening security situation and threats to which people are exposed”, as well as the likelihood that “record levels of terrorist attacks and civilian casualties” will increase. The report further claims that the agencies then stated in the document that “more than 80,000 persons could potentially need to be returned in the near future”.

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It quotes Eklil Hakimi, Afghanistan’s finance minister, who told the Afghan parliament that the government needed to accept the returnees in order to guarantee aid. “If Afghanistan does not cooperate with EU countries on the refugee crisis, this will negatively impact the amount of aid allocated to Afghanistan,” he is quoted as saying.

The Amnesty report adds: “Similarly, a confidential Afghan government source called [the policy] a ‘poisoned cup’ that Afghanistan was forced to drink in order to receive development aid. The country is highly aid-dependent, with nearly 70% of Afghanistan’s annual income dependent upon international donors.”

In 2016, the five European countries that returned the most Afghans were: Germany (3,440), Greece (1,480), Sweden (1,025), the UK (785) and Norway (760).

Between 2007 and 2015, the report notes, 2,018 young people who had sought refuge in the UK as unaccompanied child asylum seekers were deported to Afghanistan. Despite Kabul being the most dangerous province for citizens, the UK Home Office’s policy guidance states that “return or relocation to Kabul is, in general, considered reasonable”.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: “By rejecting the vast majority of claims for asylum by Afghans, the UK is setting a worrying precedent which risks encouraging other countries to do likewise. If the government doesn’t stop deporting Afghans, it will have blood on its hands.”

Amnesty International researchers interviewed several families who described their experiences after being forcibly returned from European countries – losing loved ones, narrowly surviving attacks on civilians and living in fear of persecution.

The researchers highlighted the case of a woman and her family who fled Afghanistan in 2015 after her husband was kidnapped, beaten and released in return for a ransom. After travelling for a month, they arrived in Norway, where the authorities “denied their asylum claim and gave them a choice between being detained before being deported or being given €10,700 to return voluntarily”.

A few months after returning to Afghanistan, the husband disappeared and was later discovered to have been killed, presumably by kidnappers.

Anna Shea, Amnesty International’s researcher on refugee and migrant rights, said: “In their determination to increase the number of deportations, European governments are implementing a policy that is reckless and unlawful. Wilfully blind to the evidence that violence is at a record high and no part of Afghanistan is safe, they are putting people at risk of torture, abduction, death and other horrors.”

The Home Office said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection. Where a decision has been made that a person does not require international protection removal is only enforced when we and the courts conclude that it is safe to do so, with a safe route of return.”

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Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition showcases the world | Art and design

This year’s Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy will centre on diversity, moving the focus away from familiar European artists and instead “open our doors to the world”.

The 2017 edition of the Summer Exhibition, which next year celebrates its 250th anniversary and is still the world’s largest open-submission art exhibition, was curated by painter and printmaker Eileen Cooper.

Cooper, known best for her colourful, stylised paintings of women, had her first work selected for the Summer Exhibition as a student in the 1970s. She said she wanted to display artists who have never come close to the Royal Academy in the past.

“We couldn’t think of one slogan to sum it up, which is a real drawback,” Cooper recently told the Financial Times. “Our aim is to bring something fresh to the show by finding emerging talent and recruiting more artists from countries as disparate as [the Democratic Republic of the] Congo, Peru, Spain and India, as well as Turkey and Kurdistan.”

She added: “I don’t want to focus on personal politics but we have deliberately looked further afield from the home nations. This year we have an exhibition that’s very rich in terms of geography – we’ve tried to open our doors to the world.”

Entering the Royal Academy’s imposing courtyard, visitors are greeted by Windsculpture VI, a colourful fibreglass sculpture by the Nigerian-British artist Yinka Shonibare, who was also on the selection panel. Cooper described it as a wonderful work, “exploring the notion of harnessing motion and freezing it in a moment of time”.

Untitled (Violin) by Sir Michael Craig-Martin



Untitled (Violin) by Sir Michael Craig-Martin Photograph: Smiejkowska/Rex/Shutterstock

This year there were 12,000 digital entries, which were narrowed down by the committee to the 1,200 works now hanging in the show. A neon sign of the words “And I said I Love You!” by Tracey Emin, a vast painting by Sean Scully, suspended silver jugs by Cornelia Parker and other pieces by Wolfgang Tillmans, Anish Kapoor and Phyllida Barlow stand alongside amateur artworks by members of the public that made the selection panel’s cut.

In a first for the exhibition, this year will have a performance piece – by Alana Francis – as part of the selection. It will take place on Friday nights in the gallery, involving intimate one-to-one spoken word pieces to individuals.

The show also includes includes three film-makers, with an entire room dedicated to Isaac Julien’s work Western Union: Small Boats, which deals with the subject of refugees travelling across the Atlantic, as well as a new photography series by provocateurs Gilbert and George.

Next year the summer exhibition will celebrate its 250th anniversary. Despite drawing in an annual 200,000 visitors, it has often been scorned by critics, particularly for its inclusion of works by members of the public alongside the RA academicians. All the work in the show is for sale, with the proceeds going towards the RA schools programme. In the 1800s the Morning Post described it as a “parade of the hackneyed and incompetent amongst the little dirty paltry aristocracy of the Royal Academy”.

Cooper, however, said the all-inclusive nature of the show should be embraced. “I believe in the Summer Exhibition,” she told the Financial Times. “I think it is churlish to be negative about something that supports the next generation.”
The Summer Exhibition is at the Royal Academy, London W1J, 13 June – 20 August.

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