Germany’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Markus Potzel, talks to DW about the success of a campaign launched by the German government last year to raise awareness among Afghans embarking on perilous journeys to reach Europe.
DW: The German embassy launched a campaign in November 2015 using slogans such as “Leaving Afghanistan? Think about it again,” which was aimed at dispelling rumors about reception conditions in Germany. How successful has the campaign been so far in deterring Afghans from undertaking perilous journeys to Europe?
Markus Potzel: In 2015, around 154,000 Afghans applied for asylum in Germany. And according to the latest figures released by the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, some 32,000 Afghan asylum seekers reached Germany between January and March 2016.
If we extrapolate this figure for the entire year, then the total number of Afghan asylum seekers will be significantly smaller than that of last year. Moreover, this decline was observed even before the refugee deal between the EU and Turkey came into force. I therefore expect a lower number of Afghan asylum seekers coming to Germany in 2016.
But our correspondents on the ground report that many Afghans continue to sell whatever they have in a bid to finance their journey to Europe. In this context, do you really believe that your campaign and the efforts undertaken by the Afghan government can significantly change the situation?
It is difficult to assess. We are striving to raise awareness among Afghans about what awaits them in Germany. We launched the campaign to dispel false rumors. Many Afghans who have returned from Germany to Afghanistan say they are very disappointed with their experience in Germany. They had false expectations about life in Germany and were tricked by the rumors spread by human traffickers.
The Afghan government also has a much bigger impact in this aspect when it tells the Afghans that it would like them to remain in the country.
The country’s civil society has also initiated campaigns such as “Afghanistan needs you” and “I do my part,” which are broadcast by many television channels. Furthermore, “Afghanistan needs you” is a social campaign run on social media sites by the nation’s youth, and it is targeted at young people. This has a much bigger effect than the campaign launched by the German embassy.
But at the same time, it is very important that we raise awareness among the people who want to travel to Germany about the reception conditions.
How closely do you work with the Afghan government to achieve this?
There is very close coordination between the Germany embassy and the Afghan government. I engage in discussions with Afghan government officials at least once a week aimed at improving our cooperation. Over the past 15 years, Germany has given a lot of development aid to Afghanistan, amounting to around 430 million euros a year.
By improving the living conditions on the ground in Afghanistan, we want to make sure that Afghans remain in their home country.
We will invest in the nation’s agriculture sector, so that Afghans are able to produce and process their own agricultural products instead of relying on imports from neighboring countries. And we will also continue to invest in vocational training centers, so that young Afghans are better educated and have better chances at finding jobs, not just in Afghanistan but also in Gulf states.
The political situation in Afghanistan remains fragile, and the ensuing hopelessness and lack of perspectives are among the main reasons behind many people’s decision to flee the country. What should be done to resolve this problem?
This question should actually be directed at the Afghan government. The government is striving to counteract the hopelessness prevailing among sections of society. And Germany is supporting the Afghan government to achieve this. At the start of April, we held negotiations with the Afghan government to deliver more aid to the country. But there are also conditions attached: The Afghan government must demonstrate progress on political reforms, curb corruption and bolster the economy.
There is still plenty of need for change. However, one must not forget that the government cannot implement all the above mentioned steps in one and a half years, and what successive previous governments had failed to do for 14 years.
The next major donor conference is set to take place in Brussels at the start of October, when the international community will renew its commitment to Afghanistan for the next three to four years. It will also be an occasion to bring the Afghan government to account.
Furthermore, Germany will continue to play an active role in Afghanistan. We will pursue our mission to train Afghan armed forces and police. This engagement plays a very important role in assuring the Afghans that the international community, and particularly Germany, will continue to remain committed to their country. And we expect this to help convince them to remain in the country.
Markus Potzel is Germany’s Ambassador to Afghanistan.