“Steps on the way to social integration”: Initial social interactions of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan with the host society, their relevance, assessment and implications
By Josef Kohlbacher
This post discusses how the refugees interviewed for the study perceived of the receiving context in the Austrian society. It focuses on social contacts of refugees with Austrians. These Austrians may be police officers, NGO representatives, refugee workers, language tutors, and so on. The analysis is based on the assumption that social integration is a process of change and exchange that involves both refugees and people of the host society and which starts immediately with the first contacts, though the extracted material only reflects the refugees’ perspective of this interactive process. Thus, I investigated the modes and consequences of interethnic social interactions and the resulting social ties in the refugees’ everyday life and path to integration. A qualitative and interpretative research approach was used to understand how refugees relate to social contexts and make sense of them on their path to social embeddedness in Austrian society. The temporal plane of reference is mainly the initial and early phase of stay. In some cases, refugees who had been in Austria longer were included in the analysis –mainly with regard to housing and labor market integration and social ties that have been established for longer–. A broad range of experiences have been represented in the study depending on socio-economic and socio-demographic variables such as gender, education, language proficiency and country of origin. At the time of our interviews, the range of interactions with locals spanned from living in a flat together with Austrian friends to a complete absence of social contacts with the local population.
Two main fields could be identified in which weak or strong social ties were particularly important. Both categories are based on the theory of the American sociologist Mark Granovetter, who found that the “strength” of an interpersonal tie is a linear combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (or mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize each tie. So, the best example for strong ties are friendship relations, whereas most neighborhood contacts can be classified as being of weak tie quality:
Refugees have to develop differentiated strategies in order to solve problems of “arriving” in Austrian society. One of the most important strategies for the interviewees was the search for social support. Refugees, who had lost their family network were very eager to establish new social ties to compensate for the social vacuum. It became clear that among the determinants of establishing social ties individual motivations, sociability and in particular language skills were among the most relevant.
Those respondents with good German-language skills were likely to fare better in all domains. Social contacts are the best German language training and also the best “antidepressant”, as the following quote from an interview with a young Hazara from Ghazni in Afghanistan illustrates: “In this area for example, in the beginning I stayed two years there, I spoke the language a little, but I had troubles and could not really learn, really now after some time I was able to find my way with my friends, I found Austrian friends and I can communicate with them. Now my heart became brighter.”
Our material also showed that involvement in education in general and in particular German language courses are a very important way of making new contacts. As mentioned above, “subjective” individual determinants as introversion or extraversion proved to be very relevant. Conversely, among the “objective” determinants, time plays a key role, as the longer one stays the more opportunities she or he has to integrate.
I also analyzed the long-term perspective, which means the relevance of social ties in structural integration. Here housing and labor market integration are the most important fields. In some cases, it turned out that even weak ties proved to be very effective in organizing housing opportunities for the respondents. This can be illustrated by the following quote from an interview with a young man: “My first experiences with Austrians were excellent. Actually, I am sharing a flat with an Austrian. He provided me his flat although he doesn’t really know me. He left his bedroom to me and my brother and he himself is sleeping in the smaller room. Though he does not know me, he did this all for me. Not even your close relatives would do this for you. The Austrians are really extraordinarily helpful and very affectionate people” .
In the field of labor market integration our sample mirrored that informal help and social contacts play a minor role. Active support for labor market integration by weak as well as strong ties with Austrians was rarely mentioned. There were only a few respondents, who were very optimistic also in expecting support by Austrian friends for realizing the future plans in labor market career on a long-term perspective.
Now, which were the main factors hindering social interactions? It became clear that language problems were among the barriers which were most frequently mentioned by the refugees. Thus, all our respondents were eager to improve their German by attending language courses and additionally by studying on their own. Xenophobia forms a further barrier but in our sample only few refugees spoke of experiences with explicitly xenophobic attitudes. Some refugees did not refer to explicit xenophobia but rather to a kind of general social distance in human interactions. In the words of an Iraqi woman: “It is true that this country is very progressive, but there is almost no social contact between people. There is no care for each other, there is no empathy or sympathy towards other human beings. There is no friend who suddenly knocks at the door and comes for some coffee.”
As ISR researcher I was also interested in the relevance of spatial factors. For many respondents the desire for more social contacts with native Austrians went hand in hand with an explicit preference for living in urban spaces due to better opportunities for social interactions. In this vein, an Iraqi woman said: “In the urban context I will have more possibilities to come into contact with Austrian people. By this it is easier for me to integrate and I will learn the language more quickly. In the countryside I perhaps have to live far from civilization and one has only very few contacts with the Austrian population”. One has, however, to emphasize that this argument was contradicted by other respondents. So, for example a female respondent from Syria stated considerable differences in the openness for social contacts and in their quality between smaller towns in Tyrol where she stayed before and the city of Vienna: “... the people, they were very nice with me when I was in Tirol, they were very, very nice with me, I have to say. ... But, when I came to Vienna, Vienna is a work city. You could easily not know, what is the face of your neighbor, just near your door and you meet him in the building in the stairs, but you didn’t know that he is the person, who is living there. It’s a very busy life in Vienna.”
As the research project was a pilot and exploratory study, the purposive sampling of respondents with specific demographic characteristics does not allow for generalizations. The study focused mainly on the experiences of refugees who were recent arrivals and did not perceive themselves to have fully undergone the process of re-establishing social networks. Therefore, the findings derived on the basis of the interviews were quite idiosyncratic to this specific group. It will be necessary to investigate larger samples of refugees from various ethnic backgrounds and with different characteristics in order to produce a representative picture of the patterns of building up weak and strong social ties in a receiving society for refugees.
This is the second post of our blog post series on From Destination to Integration: Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi Refugees in Vienna, edited by Josef Kohlbacher and Leonardo Schiocchet (2017). This book features results, analyses and interpretations of a pilot study conducted by ROR-n and can be purchased here
By Leonardo Schiocchet
Most refugees in the world come from the Middle East and Central Eurasia, and most forced migrants in Europe also come from this region. The so-called Summer of Refuge (or Summer of Migration) in 2015, when unprecedented numbers of forced migrants applied for asylum in Europe, made this fact apparent from Portugal to the Balkan Peninsula.
A recent book publication, From Destination to Integration: Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi Refugees in Vienna (2017), edited by Josef Kohlbacher and me, has been devoted to presenting and analyzing experiences of refugees from these regions in their country of origin, on their flight and after their arrival in Austria. This blog post inaugurates a series dedicated to showcasing this book featuring results, analyses and interpretations of a pilot study conducted by ROR-n. The edited volume contributes with in-depth qualitative data on forced migration from the Middle East and Central Eurasia to Europe, by means of discussing how Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees reached Austria and relate to this regional and urban context. Overall, this edited volume offers intimate stories on the disrupted lives of Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans both prior to deadly conflicts in the region and in exile. It also presents interpretations of sets of in-depth interviews, contributing to several topics in migration and forced migration studies. Research presented in this volume focuses on the unique moment of the first experiences of these refugees in Austria, which is essential to understanding the development of the interaction between refugee and host over time. This fresh outlook from the point of view of displaced persons is also in tune with established and contemporary scholarship on memory and agency. Besides, Europe is in dire need of a reexamination of attitudes towards forced migration, and Austria is no exception. Thus, the importance of this timely contribution can hardly be overstated.
Even though each of the chapters in this book contributes to different topics, one topic in particular cuts across all contributions: integration. But what is integration? What are its conditions of possibility? How is it mobilized as discourse and practice? And, what does it leave out of the picture, if anything? These are some of the most pressing questions posed by the Summer of Refuge. As the reader will see in the other posts of this series, each chapter addresses integration, or rather, what I prefer to call “the encounter”, between refugees and their hosts by exploring different aspects, nuances, and diverse transdisciplinary competences.
Besides, all chapters in one way or another engage with the principles of humanitarian intervention and the power relations they convey, what we understand as human, humanity and humane, and how we organize society around it. As I argue throughout my introductory chapter summarized here (Schiocchet 2017), the relationship between the two can be in fact surprisingly contradictory, and the concept of “tutelage” lays bare relations of power constitutive of this social situation.
I use the term “encounter” to challenge assumptions entailed by the term integration in a similar way that Lieba Fair and Lisa Rofel engage with the term:
“These ethnographies explore how culture-making occurs through unequal relationships involving two or more groups of people and things that appear to exist in culturally distinct worlds. The term encounter refers to everyday engagements across difference. Ethnographies of encounter focus on the cross-cultural and relational dynamics of these processes” (2014: 363).
Yet, my discussion emphasizes instead the meeting between migrants, forced or otherwise, and their hosts. My point is not to discredit the importance of the concept of integration in general, only to suggest that encounter is more suitable as an academic tool to investigate how different worldviews influence each other upon contact, which in turn does not take for granted the normative imperative of fitting one term to the standards of the other. While integration remains an important policy tool, academics should first investigate the encounter at large and only then seek answers to integrating policies. This more holistic standpoint, in turn, gears the discussion on the topic toward what Noel Salazar and Alan Smart called (im)mobility (2011). As I develop elsewhere, refugees – obliged to cross borders rather than stay at their places of origin, living in overcrowded shelters, and serving as easy prey for war machines surrounding them – often do not feel mobile but immobile even when jumping country-to-country and continent-to-continent.
In part because most refugees feel obliged to abandon their homes to live under another country’s rule as a non-citizen, I contend that the refugee voices heard in the study suggest that the encounter between refugees and Austria and Austrians is best understood through the lens of tutelage. The concept of tutelage, in turn, has been only rarely applied to the anthropological understanding of refugees, and more often to the study of indigenous minorities or international legal regimes over given territories and their populations.
The concept of tutelage lays bare relations of power constitutive of the humanitarian intervention. It is what the works of Michel Foucault (1980) and Liisa Malkki (1985, 1995, 1996) combined would call a technology of biopower, meaning disciplinary practices determining power relations over life, through which power is exerted asymmetrically across the system of forces at play. Tutelary regimes legitimize the dependency of protectorates, children, indigenous groups, national minorities, refugees, and other subjects perceived as not apt for deciding for themselves. In denying agency and full political participation and autonomy, tutelage objectifies and depoliticizes.
Humanitarianism has its own vernacular politics, which is mobilized not only by the United Nations refugee agency, but also by NGOs, nation-states, the media, and the refugees themselves. Anthropologists working on refugees or on humanitarianism, such as Michel Agier (2012, 2008), Ilana Feldman (2010), and Didier Fassin (2013, 2012) have already pointed to the structure of the humanitarian discourse and apparatus. The principles and mechanisms of humanitarian aid depend on accepting nation state sovereignty above all. This, in turn, means that international treaties and “laws” relating to refugees, such as the Geneva Convention and its protocols, not only depend on each state’s own agreement and interpretation, but are also contextually subject to nation-state rule in practice. That is, the application of such principles is left to each state’s own devices. Institutions such as the United Nations can only suggest resolutions on how to treat refugees, but not enforce them in practice. Accountability and enforcement mechanisms are usually limited to international sanctions, when these are actually put into practice. The decision always lies with the General Assembly, which is in itself composed of UN member states, voting according to their own interests. Humanitarian intervention is thus complementary to nation-state sovereignty, rather than an opposite force. As refugees by definition do not fit into any nation-state, they need to be governed by a force external to the nation-state order of the world that, in doing so, reinforces nation-state sovereignty. Tutelage, thus, embodies the power relations at play between refugees on one side and the national-humanitarian order of the world on the other one.
At the base of the nexus between national sovereignty and international humanitarian intervention lies the main principle that humanitarianism should be apolitical. While this principle is most often naturalized as being beyond criticism, it has its limitations. Most importantly, most refugees perceive that the solution for their situation is not simply bed and board or to be taken (or not) to one or another country. The solution, for most, is inherently political. Most Palestinian and Kurdish refugees, for example, want their own country, rather than only food and lodging. As forced migrants, refugees were obliged to leave their countries of origin or else suffer persecution and violence. On the one hand, by treating refugees as mere objects of humanitarian policy, their claims are understood in principle as apolitical. On the other hand, however, refugees are treated by host nation states as a political problem, rather than as humans just like any other citizen. In the national-humanitarian order of the world, thus, refugees are apolitical when they want to be political, and political when they want to be taken as equal to other humans. This tension tends to frame the experience of refugeeness greatly, and has yet to be widely acknowledged by policymakers, humanitarian agents, and scholars alike.
I suggest that humanitarianism is a project entailing the creation of a humanity beyond politics that could never be fully turned into reality, as it is curbed by the whims of nation-states. Such a project cannot exist but within the relative and contextual space given to it by particular nation-state sovereignties. The result is a general policy of tutelage that conceals political contextualization and with it the aspirations and lives of the refugees themselves. This, in turn, goes against Hannah Arendt’s suggestion that Human rights should be above all political (see, for example, Arendt 1976: 296-297). Supposedly beyond politics, humanitarianism has often been considered beyond criticism too, and thus needs to be taken in scholarly perspective and understood as an ideology in Louis Dumont’s sense (1980, 1986) – that is, not opposed to truth, but as one truth regime among others.
Nonetheless, my remarks must not be read as effacing the notable improvement humanitarian intervention has ensured for the lives of refugees. It is imperative to keep in mind that the critique of the Humanitarian intervention I present here is academic, only meant to lay bare its mechanisms to diagnose the social situation analyzed. It is also not meant as a critique of Europe or Austria specifically, but of global humanitarian reason and intervention at large.
Only through comprehensive understanding of the socio-political processes at play can we move forward, overcome ideological and policy limitations, and ultimately contribute to the betterment of the refugee situation world-wide. Thus, my aim here was to show that no matter how outstanding this assistance is, it is only palliative to enduring political solutions. To be more precise, my chapter suggests that it is the tutelary character of humanitarian intervention, legitimized as apolitical, which must be rethought and substituted by a more comprehensive, context-aware, practice; a practice that would take refugees as subjects of their own destinies, and assume the inherently political character of refuge situations, refugee subjects, and humanitarian practice itself.
From Destination to Integration: Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi Refugees in Vienna is available for purchase here
Agier, Michel. 2008. On the Margins of the World: The Refugee Experience Today. Cambridge: Polity Press.
____________. 2012. Managing the Undesirables: Refugee Camps and Humanitarian Government. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Arendt, Hannah. 1976. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.
Dumont, Louis. 1980. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
____________. 1986. Essays on Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Faier, Lieba & Rofel, Lisa. 2014. Ethnographies of Encounter. Annual Review of Anthropology, 43, pp. 363-77.
Fassin, Didier. 2013. Why Ethnography Matters: On Anthropology and its Publics. Cultural Anthropology, 28 (4), 621-646.
____________. 2012. Humanitarian Reason: A Moral Order of the Present. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Feldman, Ilana & Ticktin, Miriam (Eds.). 2010. In the Name of Humanity: The Government of Threat and Care. London: Duke University Press.
Foucault, Michel. 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. Toronto: The Harvester Press.
Kohlbacher, Josef and Schiocchet, Leonardo. 2017. From Destination to Integration: Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Vienna (ISR-Forschungsbericht Heft 45). Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press.
Malkki, Liisa. 1985. The Origin of a Device of Power: The refugee Camp in Post-war Europe. Special Paper submitted to the Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge.
____________. 1995. Purity and Exile: Violence, Memory, and National Cosmology among Hutu Refugees in Tanzania. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
____________. 1996. Speechless Emissaries: Refugees, Humanitarianism, and Dehistoricization. Cultural Anthropology, 11 (3), pp. 377-404.
Salazar, Noel & Smart, Alan (Eds.). 2011. Anthropological Takes on (Im)Mobility. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 18 (6), i-ix.
Schiocchet, Leonardo. 2017. Integration and Encounter in Humanitarian Tutelage. In Kohlbacher, Josef and Schiocchet, Leonardo (Eds.). In From Destination to Integration – Afghan, Syrian And Iraqi Refugees in Vienna, pp.9-35. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press.
Leonardo Schiocchet has a PhD in anthropology (Boston University, 2011), is a researcher at the Austrian Academy of Sciences Institute for Social Anthropology, and a member of ROR-n. His work has focused on the Anthropology of the Middle East, with particular attention to processes of social belonging and subjecthood among Arab refugees in the Middle East, Latin America, and Europe. Many of his writings are available at
We Want Justice for Afghan Refugees Declaration of Afghan Refugees at the Vienna Refugee Protest Camp 2017
* This blog post contains a policy critique by the ROR-n editorial, written by Monika Mokre, and the full declaration published by the The Afghan Refugees in Austria of the Vienna Refugee Protest Camp 2017
By the end of August 2017, a four-day protest of Afghani refugees took place in Vienna. We publish here the demands of the protesting refugees as well as some background information on their situation.
According to UNHCR, „ the most essential component of refugee status and of asylum is protection against return to a country where a person has reason to fear persecution.“ (UNHCR 1977) This so-called „Non-refoulement“-principle is enshrined in Article 33 (1) of the Geneva Conventions on Refugees: „“No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
The principle of non-refoulement also applies to people who are not refugees according to this definition if their lives are threatened in their country of origin. In this case, they are eligible for subsidiary protection when there are „substantial grounds for the presumption that they are at risk of serious harm in their country of origin and that they cannot take up the protection of their country of origin or do not wish to take it up because of that threat. Serious harm can originate from both governmental and non-governmental players.
The following are regarded as constituting serious harm:
To summarize: According to international law, EU legislation and national laws of the EU Member States, people must not be sent to a country where they are threatened by inhuman treatment or death. This is an individual right, based on individual situations which have to be assessed individually.
However, the Asylum Procedure Directive of 2013 (APD) opens up the possibility for Member States to define so-called „safe third countries“: (30) „A key consideration for the well-foundedness of an application for international protection is the safety of the applicant in his or her country of origin. Where a third country can be regarded as a safe country of origin, Member States should be able to designate it as safe and presume its safety for a particular applicant, unless he or she presents counter-indications.“ According to the Directive, this does not mean that individual asylum procedures will not take place for nationals of these countries, however, the European Commission stipulates: „Applications from nationals of countries on the Safe List will be fast-tracked, allowing for faster returns if the individual assessments of the applications confirm no right of asylum. This will:
Faster asylum procedures form certainly a valuable political aim; however, fast-tracking here means a fast negative decision. Both the safe-country-principle and the fast-tracking method stand in a certain tension with the individual right to a fair asylum procedure. After all, there are several countries in this world which are safe for some people but not for other ones, e.g. safe for white people but not for people of color or (in rare cases) vice versa, or safe for cis-gender or heterosexual people but not for homosexual and trans-sexual people.
In addition to these fundamental problems of the safe-country- principle, in recent years, the EU and its member states have applied a very broad definition of safe countries. Turkey is a case in point: In March 2016, the EU signed an agreement with Turkey allowing to send back all refugees coming to the EU from Turkey. According to EU leaders, this agreement is in full accordance with international and EU law. However, this assessment has been flawed from the beginning as Turkey only signed the Geneva Convention on Refugees but not the Protocol which means, inter alia, that only Europeans can qualify as refugees in Turkey. Furthermore, since this agreement has been signed, Turkey has frequently been criticized for non-democratic procedures and human rights-infringements. Accession negotiations with Turkey were, thus, once again stopped – but not the refugee agreement.
Even more surprisingly, Afghanistan has been dubbed a safe country by the EU already for some years. This definition only became relevant in fall 2016 as, at this time, the EU signed an agreement with Afghanistan promising 1.2 billion Euros in development aid until 2020 as an exchange for Afghanistan to take back deported Afghani nationals.  This agreement took place after Afghanistan asked in 2015 the EU Member States not to send people back due to the worsening safety situation there. And the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan called the first half of year 2016 the worst in terms of casualties since 2009. Even the European Commission itself published in 2016 that it was „difficult to map out the safe areas due to the unpredictability of the conflict on the ground.“
The EU-Afghanistan-agreement makes it possible for EU Member States to send people back to Afghanistan – by deportation or by voluntary return. Whereas it should be noted that „voluntary“ in this case frequently just means that people prefer to go back voluntarily when the only alternative is deportation. However, obviously, the agreement does not oblige any Member State to send people back. Currently, three states carry out large scale deportations to Afghanistan – Sweden, Germany, and Austria.
Germany, however, stopped these regular deportations to Afghanistan for some months after a bomb attack on the German embassy in Kabul in May 2017. From this time until the end of August “only” criminals, and so-called “dangerous people“ were deported – it should, however, be mentioned that also these people should enjoy protection of their human rights. By the beginning of September, Germany re-started regular deportations.
In the last few months, Sweden and Austria have not changed their deportation practice. The Austrian government has thereby referred to an expert assessment by Karl Mahringer, CEO of several businesses active in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. His opinion has been contested in legal procedures, contradicted by other experts and does not correspond to assessments by the UN. Still, it is the base for return decisions to Afghanistan in Austria.
The deportation of people to Afghanistan stands in contradiction to international conventions signed by the EU and its member states and rhetorically held in high regard by them. Afghani refugees in Vienna protest against this politics threatening their lives and have published the following declaration:
“Honorable Prime Minister of Austria, Mr. Christian Kern, Leaders of the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and relevant authorities,
Since, the withdrawal of the international military forces from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 the security situation in the country has seriously deteriorated with increased civilian casualties and a growing internal displacement crisis in the country. The Taliban and the Daesh/Islamic State Khorasan now control more territory than at any point since 2001.
The deadly terrorist attacks on civilians in the past 8 months of this year 2017 and the inability of the Afghan government to ensure their adequate protection show that Afghanistan remains an unsafe country for refugees to be returned to. The capital Kabul has suffered the highest levels of civilian casualties, followed by Helmand, Kandahar, Paktia, Balkh and Nangarhar provinces. The other regions, where (high profile) attacks are not frequently taking place, are mostly overcrowded by returnees – especially those who have been forced to leave Iran and Pakistan. Even the relief help by International Organizations is not reaching and cannot cover sufficiently the suffering population and their needs.
On the one hand, Afghanistan is seen as a place where armed groups like the so-called Islamic State pose such a danger that the USA felt compelled to drop the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb and has forced the Trump Administration to announced a new strategy on 21 August 2017 that calls for more troops to combat Daesh/Islamic State Khorasan, Al-Qaida, Taliban and other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan.
At the same time, the Afghan government is not capable of reducing harm to civilians, due to corruption and warlords’ control over key government security positions; civilians received higher levels of casualties, confirmed by various valuable reports issued by United Nations, Amnesty International and other international organizations.
While civilian casualties remain high, with women and children suffering the worst of the violence, we the Afghan Asylum seekers are forced to return to such a country!?
In issuing this declaration, we put forth the following demands and kindly request the concerned Austrian and EU authorities to respect our rights taking into consideration the international instruments, the EU conventions protocols related to human rights and refugees as follows:
1) Immediately put a halton deportations to Afghanistan, because Afghanistan is not a safe country.
Considering the volatile security situation of Afghanistan we demand an end to asylum decisions influenced by the inhuman commitment or agreement between the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the EU, which fundamentally violates the Convention & Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951, 1967). We - in collaboration with humanitarian organizations – emphasise that Afghanistan is no safe place for Afghans to return. We want the Austrian government to take a diverse set of official reports into serious consideration giving them a higher priority – and not only mentioning them, such reports as from UNAMA, Amnesty International, and other human rights organizations from 2016/17 compared to singular assessments such as the Mahringer Gutachten,
We are convinced that it is necessary to consider the rise of casualties across the country in suicide attacks; bomb blasts, militant attacks, and rampant violence from both political and criminal elements which serve as a sign of the inability of the state to maintain the security of the vast majority of the population. In this light, we request that both the Austrian government and the European authorities review Afghanistan's safety and security situation anew and acknowledge that Afghanistan cannot be considered a safe country.
2) Immediately reconsider and reevaluate all asylum cases which were rejected based on singular reports – like the Mahringer Report -- as a Basis for Safe return to the Country. Presupposition: Afghanistan is not a safe country.
The Mahringer Report portrays Afghanistan – especially Kabul - as safe enough for a return. However, its assumption about safety rests solely on the major metropolitan centres. While, according to some estimates, there exists a perpetual war in thirty of the thirty three provinces of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, today we can no longer speak of safe centres as the capital itself is a continuous war scene. Recently, Herat, Nangarhar, Kabul, Paktia, and other urban centres have become a target of the Taliban and Daesh/Islamic State Khorasan where not only military personnel, but also children and elderly have become victims of vicious massacres of civilians. The guideline of UNHCR for protection of refugees from Afghanistan (UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Afghanistan) has to be taken more seriously and consequently applied. The high amount of internal displaced persons and the lack of economic resources followed by the high jobless rate make a survival in Kabul and a new settlement of former refugees impossible and this procedure is risking their survival. The core of reasoning of the Mahringer report – the traditional supportive networks from former times, has been destroyed by war, conflict, poverty and corruption. Several reports dissent the Mahringer report – not only referring to his estimation of minimum income for survival at Kabul, but also the chances for returnees finding an accommodation or a job and getting support by a social network. Moreover, the networks of anti-government elements – such as the Taliban or the Daesh/Islamic State Khorasan and others are frequently underestimated, as they are acting nationwide in Afghanistan. Consequently, the persecution of concerned persons is crossing provincial borders – and so cities like Kabul cannot offer a safe alternative.
Furthermore, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is suffering from chronic corruption and internal divisions that perpetuate a state which propagates instability and insecurity. This has further deteriorated the condition of the average residents of Afghanistan. Therefore, it is a threat to the safety of Afghan asylum seekers to be deported to Afghanistan as the country poses a constant threat to the life of its inhabitants. According to the Convention on the Status of Refugees this is a ``well-founded reason`` to not return to Afghanistan.
3) Provision of qualified interpreters for both the initial interview and the appeal process
Lack of qualified interpreters has been a major source of misunderstanding and miscommunication which has led to asylum case rejections. It is necessary to have a clear oversight of interpreter staff in the initial interview process, as well as the appeal process in case of initial rejection. This means: adequate training and education of interpreters; ensuring adequate accountability of interpreters through secondary evaluation of the initial interview for appeal process (availability of audio recording and transcripts of the interviews for appeal reevaluation), and of course, has the asylum claimant been sufficiently informed in advance about the right to decline a specific interpreter due to biases perceived by the claimant.
4) Provision of Legal Support for the adequate understanding of refugee rights by the asylum applicant.
According to the Convention & Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951, 1967) ``a refugee shall have free access to the courts of law on the territory of all Contracting States.``(1951 Convention, Chapter II, Article 16) Free access must be interpreted as access to appropriate understanding and representation wherever necessary. Access to legal counsel for the initial asylum interview and throughout the process with adequate interpretation is a right. This right – affordable legal counsel - should be extended to the instance of the highest court.
We need more access to information and judicial advice in our native languages; a quicker handling of our cases; the recognition of our refugee status; and the right to family reunion on timely manner.
5) Provision of education facilities for children, young adolescents fifteen (15) years of age and older, as well as, young adults for better integration
It is commonly an accepted conclusion among scholars and professionals that integration is directly tied to education of children, youth, and young adults. It is to this end that we request that education – in public schools, as a necessary part of integration -will be available to all refugees – also for those who are over 15 years old and their compulsory school attendance has ended. Vocational training for young adults, as well as language classes for all ages are fundamental to a cohesive integration.
We will continue our protest until all deportations are halted!
The Afghan Refugees in Austria of the Vienna Refugee Protest Camp 2017“
 The background information was compiled by Monika Mokre of the editorial team of ROR-N.
 See e.g.: