Norway: If at first you don't succeed..

I bring this story for several reasons:
1. It brings up an interesting point about the meaning of refugee.  Is somebody embroiled in a blood feud in a country where anarchy rules a refugee?  What would happen if both sides in a blood feud request asylum?
2. Why did Qaher put so much effort into entering Norway?  He traveled through many European countries, but he did not ask for asylum there.

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Mohammed Qaher (29) is seeking asylum in Norway for the second time, several months after he was escorted by Norwegian police home to Afghanistan.

Last summer Mohammed Qaher took part in the Afghani asylum seekers' hunger strike in Oslo and Trondheim in protest against the government's plans to send home all 1800 Afghanis in Norway.  More than 80 of those who were refused asylum returned to Afghanistan since then.  One of them was Qaher.  Now he is back in Norway again, and seeking asylum one more time.

In an open 8-men room at Torshov asylum center in Oslo, Qaher tells his dramatic history.  It is equally glaring and sad.    

Mohammed Qaher says the basis for the current asylum request is more compelling then last time he came here in 2003.  Back then five members of his family were killed in an act of vengeance.  Now his entire close family - nine people - have been exterminated, in what has become a blood revenge in two distinct phases.  

"I would also have been murdered, but managed to escape right before I came to Norway the first time.  My life is worth nothing in Afghanistan" says Qaher.

The family's tragic ending started after the father, who was a judge in Afghanistan's highest court, sentenced a man to death right before the Soviet regime of president Najibullah was brought down  in 1992.

"A few months afterwards my father was run over and killed right outside our house in Kabul.  I was 12 years old and saw my father's body before it was carried away.  Because I was so young, I know little of the history and what was father's job, but he was a member of the communist party FDPA."

First Qaher's brother disappeared and his brother's wife and two children.  The family didn't know why Mohammed Qaher was kidnapped in the street at the beginning of 2003.  6-7 armed men related to Jalalabad's powerful man, Hazrat Ali, were those who took him with then, while he was selling juice.

"They took me to a farm outside Jalalabad, they I was put in a a room with lattice for windows.  They told me that Hazrat Hali had ordered my father's death and my brother and family.  Now it was my turn.  They were only waiting for Ali to come from Kabul, where he had a central position."

Qaher describes that he was mishandled and understood that fleeing was his only option.  the next night he managed to loosen a lattice and fled to Jalalabad.  An uncle drove by truck to Peshawar in Pakistan and made contact with people smugglers who took him to Europe - and Norway.  On May 25th, 2003 Qaher applied for asylum in Norway.

His family's dramatic history doesn't stop there.  A year later the uncle was killed in his home and all the belongings were taken away.  With that they suddenly got a new enemy.

"My mother and two sisters had to escape to Pakistan, but my cousin found them.  Early in 2005 my mother died, right before New Year's 2005, I had final contact with my two sisters by telephone from Pakistan.  They were scared for their lives and required protection.  They said the cousin wanted to kill them." 

When Qaher landed at the international airport in Kabul after returning from Norway, he chose to travel by taxi straight to the Pakistani town of Peshawar, where his sisters had lived in a house in the former refugee camp Nasir Bagh.  He hoped to find his sisters there, but the quest was futile.

"It was dangerous to ask too much.  My cousin has many contacts.  Therefore I decided to travel back to Norway.  I have nothing more to live for in Afghanistan and in Norway I ahve my only child, a son, born right before the hunger strike last summer."
  
Why was he refused?  UDI says that there wasn't sufficient probability that Qaher risked persecution in returning to his homeland such as is required in the Aliens' Act and the refugee convention.  They saw his problems as being caused by personal conflicts.  UDI declined the asylum request in September 2003 also because his family were still living in Afghanistan. 

In the summer of 2005 his application was denied again (by the UNE).  By then his mother was dead, according to Qaher, after fleeing with his sisters to Pakistan.  UNE said that Qaher didn't have good enough evidence of what had happened to his mother and to which degree he himself risked being killed on returning to Afghanistan.  He wasn't therefore seen as a refugee in the legal sense.  

The Afghani's spokesman during the hunger strike, Zahir Akthari, serves as translator for Qaher.  He believes many will follow in Qaher's footsteps back to Norway.  He knows of several who have such plans.  Akthari calculates that 1000 of the 1800 Afghanis are still in Norway and thinks Mohammed Qaher's history shows that the Norwegian government don't take sufficient individual consideration in handling asylum requests.

"Only people who have connection to the Kabul area are sent out.  But Qaher explains that he doesn't have family there, even if he lived there when he was young.  And he says that it is dangerous for him both in Kabul and where he comes from - Jalalabad" says Akthari.

"When he was in the homeland he requested a new handling of the asylum request.  First in the UDI and then in ENU." said Roar Hanssen, information chief for the foreigner's police.

Mohammed Qaher's flight from Pakistan back to Norway took three and half months.  A people smuggling network took good money to smuggle Qaher by bus, car, train, foot and by ferry.  The most critical phase was passing the border from Iran to Turkey by foot together with heroin smugglers, traveling by rubber boat from Turkey to Greece and the ferry trip to Italy.

"We had to climb over a fence to the port in Patra.  There the people smugglers opened a truck where I was concealed together with four other refugees among cartons with jeans.

The ferry trip took 36 hours without food and with minimal air.  Twenty minutes after they came into Italy they couldn't go on anymore.  They hit and kicked the truck wall.  The driver came and opened and they ran away.  From there they traveled by train first to Nice, then to Paris, via the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark to Sweden.  From Malm√∂ by bus to Oslo.

In the border city Peshawar in Pakistan, Qaher contacted people smugglers who for $14,000 agreed to bring him to Norway.  From there the trip went from Pakistan, to the Iraqi border city of Zahidan and further to Tehran.  Police were paid to look away.  They came to Turkey.  From there by bus to Istanbul and from there by rubber boat to Greece.  They got to Athens closed up in a semi-trailer.  

On Jan. 3rd. he reported for the second time as asylum seeker at the foreigners' police in the center of Oslo.

Source: Aftenposten (Norwegian)

See also:Norway: Afghan hunger strike a success

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