Taleban death threats become lifeline for asylum-seekers

KABUL • Stamped with the Taleban's emblem, the threat letter in Mr Ahmadzia Abbasi's hand reads like a death warrant - but like many Afghans, he sees the document as a ticket to a new life and asylum in Europe.

The Taleban widely use so-called "night letters" containing threats of violence and death, often delivered by agents under the cover of darkness, as an effective tool of intimidation.

Many war-weary Afghans embarking on perilous voyages to Europe carry the nocturnal missives - real and counterfeit - in an effort to build a compelling case for their refugee applications.

Some 77,731 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe in the first six months of the year, more than three times the figure in the same period last year, and higher than all previous years since 2001, according to the UN refugee agency.

"Anyone who reads this will know that my life is in grave danger," said Mr Abbasi, a 31-year-old social activist from eastern Logar province. The Pashto-language document castigates him for supporting the "infidel government" and warns that his head will be cut off.

"The letter is my best hope - my only hope - of gaining asylum," he told Agence France-Presse in Kabul. He has appealed to the European Union mission in Afghanistan for asylum, but the process is unlikely to be smooth as a record number of Afghans flee the turmoil and war convulsing their country.

Some 77,731 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe in the first half of the year, over three times the figure in the same period last year, and higher than all previous years since 2001, according to the UN refugee agency.

Afghans are the second-largest group of migrants trying to make Europe their home. While many face genuine threats, fabricated night letters are common.

Mr Heshmat, 24, bought his for US$80 (S$112) from a group of counterfeiters recommended by a friend who recently made it to Germany with a similar letter.

"The human smuggler who will take me to Sweden says: 'Europe is now open to migrants - and a Taleban death threat can go a long way to demonstrate the need for asylum'," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2015, with the headline 'Taleban death threats become lifeline for asylum-seekers'. Print Edition | Subscribe