A 106-year-old Afghan woman who made a perilous journey to Europe, carried by her son and grandson through mountains, deserts and forests, is facing deportation from Sweden after her asylum application was rejected.
Bibihal Uzbeki is severely disabled and can barely speak. Her family has appealed against the rejection, and she is allowed up to three appeals, a process that could take a long time. The applications of other family members are in various stages of appeal.
Their journey made headlines in 2015, when they were part of a huge influx of people who came to Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries. They traveled by foot and on trains through the Balkans before finally reaching Sweden.
The Swedish Migration Agency confirmed it has made a decision on the case and said age doesn’t by itself provide grounds for asylum.
Uzbeki arrived at the Opatovac refugee camp in Croatia in October 2015 after what she said had been a 20-day journey with her 17 family members to reach Europe, with her 67-year-old son and a 19-year-old grandson often carrying her on their backs.
Her rejection letter came during Ramadan. While the family avoided telling her, the constant grief from her granddaughters made her suspicious.
“My sisters were crying,” explained 22-year-old Mohammed Uzbeki. “My grandmother asked, ‘Why are you crying?’”
The family said that soon after she understood her request was denied, her health started deteriorating and she suffered a debilitating stroke.
The family feels the plight of Afghans is being ignored by Swedish authorities. Many countries in Europe deny asylum to Afghans from parts of the country considered safe.
“The reasoning from the migration agency is that it’s not unsafe enough in Afghanistan,” said Sanna Vestin, the head of the Swedish Network of Refugee Support Groups. But she said many of the big cities cited as safe are not at the moment.
Before their journey to Sweden, the family had been living illegally in Iran for eight years. They left Afghanistan because of an ongoing war and insecurity, but Mohammed Uzbeki said it’s difficult to prove that the family faces a specific enemy if they return.
“If I knew who was the enemy, I would have just avoided them,” he said, citing Islamic State, the Taliban and suicide bombers as possible dangers.