Deported from the west, Afghans seek asylum in freezing Croatia

By Lin Taylor

OSIJEK, Croatia, Feb 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - At 16, Afghan migrant Ashkan Barak is already tired of life. For the past year, the orphan has been on the run - fleeing Taliban militants, paying smugglers to cross the Mediterranean, and avoiding detection in countries he never knew existed.

After spending nine months in a former police station turned migrant centre in Osijek, eastern Croatia, Barak says he has given up on joining his older brother in Germany.

"I only want peace and to live away from the Taliban - it's not important where I go. I want to stay here in Croatia. I'm tired of travelling," he said in Farsi through a translator.

"I can go out and walk without fear that something will happen. There's no war, no guns," said Barak, dressed in a T-shirt, black tracksuit pants and flip-flops, grateful to be shielded from the winter snow outside.

There are around 950 asylum seekers living in the Western Balkans nation, according to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), many of whom have fled conflicts and poverty in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria.

Although Croatia houses significantly fewer migrants than most European Union (EU) countries, its interior ministry said it was expecting more asylum seekers to arrive from western Europe due to increased deportations when the weather improves.

At the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, some 650,000 people passed through Croatia on the so-called Balkan route used by migrants heading west, especially towards Germany.

The route was largely shut down last March after a series of border closures.

Barak said he realised his intended journey to Germany was futile when he was deported from Slovenia to Croatia and watched as border police beat migrants with batons.

Since then, his claim for asylum in Croatia has been rejected and the teenager faces deportation once again. The pressure is often too much to bear, he says.

"I do activities and play sports to feel better. But my life is very hard and I feel depressed," he said. "I'm not sure if they're going to accept me here or send me back to Afghanistan. I'm not sure what's going to happen."

While there is no limit to how often Barak can apply for asylum, under Croatian law he must leave the country if his third application fails.

Source: trust news