Skilled Afghans flee in hope of a better future

June 11th, 2009 - 1:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Can Merey
Kabul, June 11 (DPA) Only Ajmal Mirwais’ closest relatives know where he really works. He tells friends and the rest of his family that he earns his living at an aid organization. Mirwais, who did not want to give his real name, actually works as an interpreter with US troops in Afghanistan, making him a target for the Taliban.

The 25-year-old isn’t doing the job just for the money. It also comes with a green card - permission to live and work in the United States. Soon Mirwais, along with his wife and daughter, will leave their homeland, becoming part of the increasing number of Afghans who prefer fleeing to a foreign country to an uncertain future at home.

The brain drain is painful for the war-torn country that urgently needs young, well-trained people for its reconstruction. “The poverty, unemployment and uncertainty about a better future force a lot of young Afghans to flee their country,” said one Afghan employee of the United Nations who asked not to be named. “Whenever they have a chance, they will use it.”

Very few of those who want to leave have the coveted green cards. In desperation, many turn to people smugglers. One young Afghan said he was offered the chance to have his six-member family smuggled into Australia for $70,000.

Some Afghans are returning from exile. This is especially true of businessmen who also hold foreign passports, allowing them to leave again if things go wrong.

But even employees of Afghanistan’s government, celebrities and athletes are fleeing.

Last year, an employee of the president’s press office abandoned President Hamid Karzai’s delegation on a visit to the US. He now lives in Canada, which is popular among Afghans because of its liberal asylum policy.

Early this year, a well-known Afghan television presenter decided not to return from a trip to the US. In mid-February, three footballers and the head coach of the under-16 national team disappeared from a training camp in Germany.

Because of the risk they will not return home, Western embassies are becoming increasingly hesitant to grant visas to young Afghans, which is making the work of aid organisations more difficult.

“It’s got to the point where you can’t send people to workshops abroad,” said Rosemary Stasek, who heads A Little Help, a women’s aid organization in Kabul.

The American understands why young people are fleeing the country. “If I were a 20-year-old Afghan woman, I would walk on my lips through broken glass to Canada.” It is not primarily because of the security situation, she says.

“There’s no chances for young people.” Qualified and motivated Afghans are thwarted by bureaucracy, she said.

Mirwais, who speaks English fluently and who has a degree in economics, voices a similar complaint. “You can find many people in the government who haven’t been to school, but have good positions because they know someone in the government,” he said.

“The government isn’t taking care of young people. The government is losing the young, educated generation.” He loves his country but says he has no future there.

Although the US military is less and less popular, around 1,500 applicants are waiting for jobs as interpreters around the country, Mirwais said. “All of them want the green card,” he said. Since the start of the green card programme in 2007, more than 100 qualified Afghans have emigrated to the US from the military base where he works.

He knows 50 of these people but said no more than five are happy in the US. After six months, help from the state stops and then they have to get a job, any job they can get. The migrants, among them doctors, work in shopping centres, for example.

Mirwais has already travelled to the US once. “I didn’t like the US at all,” he says. “You are alone there.”

“I am afraid,” he said, and unsure about how he would build a life there.

But Mirwais is even more concerned that the situation in his homeland will get worse in the next year or two. “If it was peaceful here, I would never go to the US.”

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